In the spirit of full disclosure, let me begin by stating that, like 50 percent of the potential audience for Superbad, I don’t have a penis. So my sense of what’s funny about the hardware and its capabilities — a fertile source of laughs in this torrentially foulmouthed, sex-mad comedy of good high school kids gone horny and male friendship cemented by sexual anxiety — is that of an observer, rather than an owner. Also, my high school years are so far behind me that the guys who were geeks then are now the balding fathers of sons who have inherited the earth as website wunderkinds and highly paid sitcom writers.
But while it is demographically challenging for me (and, perhaps, for others who graduated high school when thong underwear was still only an option for strippers, not students) to love the movie with knowing gusto, it’s easy to enjoy the pulsing phallic comedic energy of the enterprise. Superbad is a third serving of gaily dirty, man-boy sweetness, after The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, under the aegis of comedy impresario Judd Apatow, and it’s a festival of blithely unreliable information about What Women Want. As best friends and graduating seniors Seth (Jonah Hill, the stocky, shock-haired, high-flame Oliver Hardy of the pair) and Evan (nascent comedy superstar Michael Cera, the low-burn Stan Laurel) face the prospect of a partnership disrupted by the distractions of college, they envision one last chance to unload their nagging virginity: They’ll get a couple of girls drunk at a party and do ‘em. Lay ‘em, plow ‘em…choose the age-old crudity of your choice.
For help in procuring liquor, the underage strategists enlist a fellow nerd (novice phenom Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who provides false hope of similar stardom to the millions of four-eyed, sparrow-chested peers without his unique, squeaky style). And the supersuave mono-moniker the kid chooses when he scores a fake ID — McLovin — becomes an extended punchline involving doofus cops and a wild, no-parents- in-sight party. The rest is mishap, improv, declarations of love (between BFFs Seth and Evan), and, well, chastity.
That’s Superbad’s clean little secret, the throwback thing that’s almost as fascinating to this seasoned female as the fabulous illustrations of male genitalia (clad in the raiment of superheroes) that Seth used to draw in grade school. For all the boasts about banging, the scramble to buy booze, the elaborate teen-male nightmare horror at the sight of scary menstrual blood from some girl’s mysterious Down There, the movie doesn’t stray from a path of righteousness. This notion of a wild party is so safe, it might as well be an instance of approved Amish oat-sowing. We take his word that Evan has a crush on his nice classmate Becca (Martha MacIsaac), although we have no idea who she is besides a female person who, even when dangerously drunk and in the mood, doesn’t take off her bra. We agree to pretend to believe that Seth has plans to get it on with Jules (Emma Stone), the impossibly perfect hottie who’s popular and not mean and retains her coolness although she doesn’t drink when all around her do.
In The 40 Year-Old Virgin, the desires of a sexually frightened early-middle-aged man meet up with the reality of a mature woman with her own wants. In Knocked Up, a younger skittish fellow faces the adult consequences of sexual activity with a semi-mature woman who has to figure out her own wants. We’re going back to the future, my friends: Jules is even less likely representing a real, live girl. I know that teen transformation is the point of Superbad’s fantasy vibe, a story about boy friends, not the chicks who get in the way. But it’s also the movie’s limitation.
Abundantly talented Seth Rogen (star of Knocked Up, who plays one of the cops, opposite Saturday Night Live’s Bill Hader) and Evan Goldberg (best-childhood-friend-from-funny-Canada) wrote the script when they were themselves young(er) guys. And although Apatow (who’s almost 40) produces and Greg Mottola (even older, an episode director of Apatow’s Undeclared) directs with an adult understanding of and affection for teen hormonal rhythms, the story is still that of boys and their wangdoodles. Superbad is cute if you like guys who aren’t even remotely bad, in a coming-of-age tale so old-fashioned the girls might just as well be wearing bloomers. B