Written by: Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen
Directed by: Greg Mottola
The opening credits of Superbad, featuring silhouetted dancers against dayglo backdrops, are a pastiche of '70s movies (and iPod commercials) but, despite several other nods to that decade, like the repeated, tiny eruptions of funk music throughout, it shares more in common with the teenage sex comedies of the '80s and '90s than with any American cinema from the Ford and Carter Administrations. But Superbad distinguishes itself from all of its forefathers in that it lives up to the promise of its genre by actually being quite funny, and surpasses the ilk of American Pie, to which it bears superficial resemblance, by being well crafted dramatically to boot, avoiding rote bathos to achieve genuine poignancy.
Much more so than Knocked Up, which was directed by Superbad producer Judd Apatow (currently comedy royalty in Tinseltown), Superbad feels like it might be the defining comedy of the decade, thanks in large part to the comedic rapport of underage stars Michael Cera and Jonah Hill, whose authentic yet crafted dialogue is painfully familiar to anyone who's been to high school (at least lately) and exceedingly modern in its prurience. Respectively named Evan and Seth after the screenplay's authors, Evan Goldberg and Apatow-regular/apparent protege, Seth Rogen, Hil, in stature and temperament, is a perfect mini-Rogen, but it's Cera, who should be well-known from playing Jason Bateman's son in the towering achievement known as Arrested Development, who steals the show; he's shaping-up already, at his young age, to be his generation's most brilliant straightman as he's able to obscure a layer of sincerity and pathos beneath a sheen of sheer comic skill.
Though Apatow is only marginally involved, the mastery of awkward teenagespeak that was on display in his television series Freaks and Geeks, co-created with Paul Feig (attentive fans will spot Martin Starr in a cameo, F&G's math teacher Steve Bannos as the math teacher as well as friends of the show David Krumholtz and Clement E. Blake), is Superbad's bedrock, as Hill, Cera and their lispy co-star Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who goes by the sobriquet McLovin for big laughs, interact with one another in a hilariously stylized, pop-culture savvy language of sexual fanaticism, while they interact with their peers, specifically the girls at their high school, with shyness and awkwardness since their driving desire for sex surpasses in strength their understanding of the rules and norms of a sexualized society; as David Denby writes, "they know more about sex than boys did a couple of decades ago, but they’re frightened by what they know." Their whole lives, in fact, seem to be based on an unhealthy overload of sexual knowledge and irrepressible lust. If their discussions aren't directly about sex, they're at least heavy in sexual imagery.
Set over the course of a single Friday-into-Saturday, Superbad is at its strongest early on, as the boys prattle on during the course of an ordinary school day, soon faced with a momentous task/dramatic-conflict: when invited, uncharacteristically, to a big party, they're put in charge of procuring booze for their respective love interests. (Their hope is that, once drunk, it will be far easier to convince the girls to engage in some form of sexual congress or, at least, tongue kissing.) The film slips a bit when the narrative forks at the end of the first act; Plasse winds up in the company of two irresponsible policemen (Bill Hader and Rogen), while Cera and Hill go on an adventure of Homeric proportions to get liquor and get to the party while their friendship slowly unravels. Superbad is one long coitus interruptus, a dry-dream nightmare, summed-up visually at one point when Plasse, on an all-night, police-custody bender, is prevented from firing a gun.
Superbad's comedy mostly deals in high obscenity and indecency, as in a hilarious sequence in which Hill confesses a childhood obsession with drawing big veiny cocks; but it also functions on a more serious level as well, revealing the (intentionally) strong current of homoeroticism that boils beneath Cera and Hill's relationship; the film is set during their last summer before they go off to their respective universities, and it's a source of tension between them as though they are two lovers who got too close, too serious, forgetting that it was just supposed to be a short fling. Cera's should-be-benign revelation that he plans to room with Plasse in the fall is read by Hill as an act of malice and infidelity, while later an awkward, late-night plethora of "I love you"s between the two leads leads to an awkward morning-after, set up like the product of a one-night stand.
But while their relationship is played homoerotically for laughs, Superbad winds up, surprisingly, a terribly affecting film about lost love, whether it's romantic or simply platonic. While Cera and Hill drunkenly, smilingly confessing to loving one another is the sort of thing you quote for weeks at parties, it's also clear, without being sappy, that they really mean what they're saying. Greg Mottola's direction is, for the entire film, impersonal and distanced (I don't mean that pejoratively, it's a perfectly satisfactory job), but he deserves major kudos for the film's stinging final shot on an escalator. Forget anything out of Syndromes and a Century, it's the most beautiful image of the year.