Tales of a 12th Grade Nothing
The Funniest Teen Comedy of the Year Reminds Of The Genre's Inherit Emptiness
Superbad may contain more on-screen penises than even the fabulously fabulous Bruce LaBruce has been able to shoehorn into any one single movie. None of Superbad's penises is real, mind you, and none of them is shown performing any of the biological functions for which penises have, traditionally, been given screen time. No, in director Greg Mottola's fantastically raucous teen comedy the numerous penises are depicted in various almost comic-book scenarios: as cowboy cocks, as military hardware battling tanks, as thrusting rockets, as wrinkled sea creatures, as scary monsters, as unpeeled banana schlongs, as erect bar graphs, as smiling watercolors, and even as one "big veiny triumphant bastard"--all rendered in the quasi-anatomical correctness of a fourth-grade boy's illustrated hyperbole.
The movie's maturity level doesn't ever really get any older than that, to both good and ill. To put it bluntly, Superbad relishes in being one of the most obscenely boy things of any variety to come out in some time--and it's so consistently funny that it's a good idea to enter the theater with an empty bladder just to be safe. The scenarios are ludicrous, nearly every punch line hits its mark, the young actors' performances are flawless, the funny-because-it's-true discomfort level is pushed to its limits, and the dialogue is basically a nonstop stream of profanity. That being said, for all its juvenile devilry, like the teen-comedy genre overall, Superbad is so tritely all-American middle class that it ends up feeling empty.
Which isn't a knock, just an observation--and one that probably won't ever cross your mind during Superbad's 114 minutes. Lifelong friends Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Arrested Development's Michael Cera) are dorky, virginal high-school seniors a few weeks shy of graduation when they get invited to a party held by class alpha gal Jules (Emma Stone). Seth has the hots for Jules--well, any girl who he might be able to make his summer girlfriend with whom he can practice having hot sex with before he goes to college--while Evan carries a torch for the sweet Becca (Martha MacIsaac). Thanks to their equally nerdtastic friend Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) scoring a fake ID, Jules asks Seth to buy booze for her party, and he quickly hopes that being the beer-buying cool guys ends with Jules and Becca making embarrassing, drunken, sexual mistakes with him and Evan.
Naturally, nothing goes as planned at all, and the trio's ridiculous misadventures form Superbad's comically ribald plot lines. Lifelong friends/screenwriters Evan Goldberg and Knocked Up's Seth Rogen wisely don't mess with the teen comedy's basic blueprint--they just aren't afraid to rapid-fire raunch and fill every second with something gross, foul, teenage perverse, naughty, silly, weird, or otherwise just plain wrong. The pace is, refreshingly, almost exhausting--and Mintz-Plasse, Cera, and Hill carry every over-the-top moment like champs. Cera may be the best comedic straight man in ages, somehow able to say things such as "Is dick-taking ability a compliment?" without smirking at the camera. And Hill is as bravely game as Sex and the City-era Kim Cattrall, willing to do just about anything for the sake of a good joke. Hopefully, somebody will have the brilliant idea to cast this remarkable young man in the Chris Penn biopic tomorrow.
But after all the dick jokes, menses pratfalls, implied homophobia, wanton possibilities for alcohol-impaired bad judgment, pervasive adolescent tomfoolery--and the entertaining casting of Kevin Corrigan and the always on-point David Krumholtz as the scary older guys at a house party--Superbad is just another reminder that it's OK to be a white, heterosexual, and middle class in America. Naughty, sophomoric teen comedies are always wrapped around a feel-good after-school-special message.
Which is, apparently, totally OK. A simple fact of being a middle-class American means that the very idea of a "Ghostbusters lunchbox dick treasure chest" will probably never stop being funny. (And, yes, we're fully aware that Rogen, Goldberg, and Cera are Canadian.) It's just that, sooner or later, surely a teen comedy will ever have more to say than being a teenager sucks and soon enough it'll all be OK. Being self-deprecatingly funny for its own sake can certainly be enough as entertainment, but as The Simpsons movie and the series' 18-year television run make blindingly clear, it's very easy to bite the hand that feeds as long as you're eating well.