WEIRDLAND: Movie Review: "Superbad" (2007)

Friday, April 04, 2008

Movie Review: "Superbad" (2007)

"We're gonna party and get drunk and rock out, dude."
— Fogell in "Superbad" (2007)

In the spring of 2007, at the age of 84, Norman Mailer, at the Paris Review tribute in his honour, was asked why he was so obsessed with his book "The Deer Park". He replied: "Because it's about the trouble men and women always have, dealing with each other. It's a mystery. I still can't figure it out".

"Super Bad" (2007) directed by Greg Mottola (who directed three episodes of "Arrested Development" tv series) is written by Seth Rogen ("Freaks and Geeks", "Knocked up", "Fanboys") and Evan Goldberg (co-writer in a new film combo with Rogen: "Pineapple Express") and produced by one of the last kings of comedy Judd Apatow ("The 40 Year Old Virgin", "Knocked up", "Forgetting Sarah Marshall") tells us the story of two best school friends, Seth (Jonah Hill, "Accepted", "Knocked up", "Strange Wilderness") and Evan (Michael Cera, "Arrested Development", "Juno", "Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist"), who are going to be headed to different colleges due to Evan's acceptance at Darmouth. The plot hides at the beginning of the story that these two socially detached teenagers share in fact a deep fear of their upcoming separation, hence one of the working titles of "Superbad"s production was called "Separation Anxiety".

This separation anxiety is depicted in comical ways throughout the movie, although in the last act it reaches an unexpected level of seriousness and nostalgia from an adult angle not too frequently seen in the teen flick genre.

In fact, the story advances with abrupt emotional changes that have little in common with the hysterical initial moments, see the first two scenes, when Seth is shown as little less than a sexual obsess and Evan like a sort of textbook passive-aggresive sidekick to his overweight pal. Maybe the first verbose exchanges about porn sites sounded very crude but in the second scene the dialogues are masterfully hilarious, raunchy and bizarre: "It's not fair they get to flaunt that stuff... and I have to hide every erection I get", "just imagine if girls weren't weirded out by our boners" -Evan, "I honestly see now why Orson Welles ate his fat ass to death" -Seth. When Evan and Seth go out the convenience store drinking a "Slushie" and a "Red bull", they are abused by some cocky fellow students who spit on Seth and insult them.

Emboldened by his interest in sex ("The point is to be good at sex by the time you get to college..."), Seth flirts with Jules (Emma Stone) in Home Ec class while they make tiramisu. She announces she's going to throw a party and invites these stay-at-home no-lifers, who see her invitation as a golden ticket to their coveted deflowering.Add to the easily excitable duo a self-confident, skinny dweeb called Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, "Little Big Men", "Year One" -written by Harold Ramis, also produced by Apatow and co-starred by Michael Cera), who constantly annoys the hell out of Seth and Evan with his crazy ideas, like adopting the fake identity of "McLovin", a 25-year-old Hawaiian organ donor, in order to buy liquor for Jules' party. The trio's purpose in attending the party is to score with some attractive girls with whom they havebeen infatuated for years at school, a smiling cutie Becca (played by Martha MacIsaac, "Emily of New Moon", "Di-Gata Defenders" series, "The Last House on the Left") whose cleavage hasEvan's attention in math class, a popular hottie Jules (played by Emma Stone, "The New Partridge Family", "The Rocker", "The House Bunny")or in McLovin's case one random red-haired chick called Nicola (played by Aviva, "Desperate Hippies", "Forgiving the Franklins") with whom he barely crosses some embarrasing words in the hall.

Aboard a "Vag-tastic Voyage", their plans for enjoying the graduation party thrown by the lovely Jules in her parents' absence start to go downhill almost immediately. Two policemen, Officers Michaels (Seth Rogen) and Slater (Bill Hader, "Forgetting Sarah Marshall", "Saturday Night Live"), take McLovin into custody after a liquor store robbery goes awry while he's trying to illegally purchase alcohol. Seth and Evan accept a lift from a dubious stranger who drives them to a party where Evan is forced to sing surrounded by crack addicts while Seth receives a period blood stain splashed over his slacks. We also witness a heated argument between the pair when Evan begins to be aware of the risk they are courting.

"l've just sat around wasting all my time with you. And now I'm going to college a fucking friendless virgin" -a bitter Evan reproachs to an obstinate Seth in a rather sad scene.

Our trio experiences more maniacally weird encounters (once Fogell is allowed by his friendly "kidnapper" cops to continue his quest for sex) when they come at last to the party, where most of girls are, like Becca, already drunk, and they will try to seduce/get seduced by these young ladies for the first time, although they may not be totally ready for it.

“It’s funny to show people who both want intimacy and are terrified of it” -says Apatow in NY Movies-. “The guy who’s going to put his heart out there, either to be embraced or be crushed”.

So we got at this point plenty of awkward talks:
Seth: You're drunk, Jules.
Jules: Yeah, I'm actually--
I'm not drunk at all. I don't even drink, so it's....
Seth: Jules, you drink. You drink.
But the stellar scene in awkwardness is between Evan and Becca. During this scene, Evan says, "It's a meaningful sweater to me. It's vintage", as he finds himself freaked out and numbed by alcohol as he tries to slow down the drunken advances from an intimate and intimidating Becca. This anticlimactic sex scene works as the reverse of a standard Hollywood resolution. Evan delivers a hazily touching justification for stopping the girl of his dreams: "Becca, this is kind of intense. And I just — I'm so drunk. I can't even, like, process this. And you're really pretty. And I just think this isn't how I pictured it."

Prey to the "bedroom blues", Evan grabs the bottle back while the cops show their goofy authority again, entering the party like two representatives of sexual law and order, blocking Fogell's sexual interlude with the pretty Nicola. Needless to say, the antihero of the show is McLovin; he's really the 'superbad' of "Superbad". As Fogell is getting stagely arrested by the crazy cops Party Teenager #1 (Clark Duke, "Hearts Afire", "Clark and Michael", "Greek" series) bows to him: "Holy shit. Fogell's a badass".

A very poignant scene in the last part of the film focuses on the reconciliation between Evan and Seth, as they confess their love for each other, which isn't supergay, it's just —as all the film celebrates "guyness"— a good feeling that is born by valuing the best friendship.

Seth: "I love my best friend, Evan".

Evan: "It's-- It's the most beautiful thing in the world".

In "Knocked Up" (2007) there is a similar exchange about love by Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd:

Ben: "You can’t accept love?"

Pete: "I don’t know what it is…"

Ben: "Love! The most beautiful, shiny, warmy thing in the world".

What I like of Apatow is recognizing a given pattern, the inevitability that every important filmmaker adopts in their storytelling, as admitted by himself in this interview for The San Francisco Chronicle:

Interviewer: "Maybe this is your Preston Sturges period, your little blast".
Apatow: "Yeah, and then it's over".
Interviewer: "And then there's that trap where they want you to do the same thing over and over".
Apatow: "Yeah. They don't have to worry about that, because I will do the same thing over and over. I don't know anything else".

"Superbad" DVD's Extras and special features:

There are eight minutes of Deleted and Extended Scenes, plus some Previews, Line-o-rama -a collection of improvised lines-, a Gag Reel, cameos in Cop Car Confessions, Making of Superbad (behind the scenes footage), Vag-tastic Voyage segment, Original Table Read (Seth and Evan are read by Seth Rogen and Jason Segel), Michael Cera in the "Dancing Title Sequence", "Everybody hates Michael Cera" featurette, Pineapple Express First Look -the next film from Rogen and Apatow- and a commentary track with Apatow, Mottola, Rogen, Goldberg, Cera, Hill and Mintz-Plasse.
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