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Superbad as they wanna be: a teen sex comedy that’s actually funny

by Glen Baity

The teen sex romp might be the most well covered territory this side of the buddy cop movie.

Sing along if you know the words: A group of guys (usually well-meaning nerds) on the verge of their high school graduation decide they absolutely cannot go to college (where the girls are “way more experienced” and “into mature guys who talk about politics and stuff”) with their virginity intact.

They seem doomed to do just that, until…what’s that? A light in the darkness! There’s a Big Party (or, in the case of Porky’s, a whorehouse), and each of the guys’ long-term crushes (or, failing that, a prostitute) will be there!

You know the guys, too: There’s the excitable, horny misogynist who will eventually get freaky with some nameless nymphomaniac, thereby learning the true meaning of degenerate sex; his best friend, the Sensitive Guy who has secretly loved the same girl since 9th grade; and at least one or two hard-core Dungeons & Dragons geeks with mommy complexes (who will also, improbably, get laid).

A plan is hatched to get into the party (“It’s at that mean jock’s house and we’re not invited!”), win the girls’ hearts through some heroic act, and (obviously) have mad porno sex ’til the break-a break-a dawn.

There are minor variations of this tune, but the chord changes are always the same. I don’t mean to sound disparaging here: I know most movies follow a formula, and often it’s a familiar one. A movie like Superbad, which I loved, can rise above it even if you’ve seen it at least a dozen times under different titles.

This time, the guys’ names are Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera), who are aided in their struggle by Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), possessor of the High School Holy Grail, the fake ID (I should mention that these kids, for once, actually look a little bit like actual high school seniors). Their quest is to get liquor for a party they’ve somehow managed to weasel their way into. Seth wants to get laid, Evan wants to win the heart of Becca (Martha MacIsaac), for whom he’s carried a torch since freshman year, and Fogell (hilariously rechristened ‘McLovin’ on his bogus ID) just wants to be included.

Since it’s one of the most vulgar movies I’ve ever seen, it’s hard to offer too many of Superbad’s plot points without violating this column’s PG-13 rating. Better to give the template and let your imagination wander, but be warned: What you imagine will likely be only a fraction as dirty as what ends up onscreen. The filmmakers must have caught the MPAA screeners in a particularly permissive mood, as I can’t otherwise figure out how this film received an R rating. Seriously, it’s that dirty.

Maybe they were won over, like I was, by its underlying sweetness. Superbad was written by Judd Apatow buddies Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (I’m assuming, given the main characters’ names, that it’s an autobiography of sorts), and names Apatow as one of its producers. If you saw Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin or Knocked Up, you know all the F-bombs and genital-based humor mask a big, vulnerable heart. Those films, at least to a degree, took typical archetypes from teen comedies and transported them to the precipice of adulthood.

Superbad puts those characters back into their high school element, and while it has an undeniable homogenizing effect, it’s still wickedly funny. Cera and Hill are terrific as the two leads, whose friendship, naturally, is the film’s real focus. They work so well together, I can’t imagine them not being friends in real life.

Cera in particular, as he did in Arrested Development, raises perpetual embarrassment to an art form. Unlike most teen comedies, which foist humiliation after humiliation upon their protagonists (more and more these days, this seems to involve unknowingly drinking someone else’s bodily fluids, or humping an inanimate object), Cera’s awkwardness seems congenital and irreversible, evidence of something wrong with his DNA. Even though you cheer for the guy, no one could reasonably believe he could be cured by a pretty girl at his side. He seems unusually aware of this, as his character is vocally disinterested in sex, perhaps a first in this type of movie.

Though I really did enjoy the film, there’s a lot that could’ve been trimmed to keep the momentum going. In the age of the Extreme!!! Unrated!!! DVD!!!, there’s no reason to include every single joke the MPAA would allow, and some of the running gags could’ve been shortened to make Superbad a leaner package. On the whole, however, the good jokes are worth the wait.

And if stupid teen comedies are your thing, Superbad might be your new favorite movie. It is, at times, dangerously amoral, and not for the faint at heart – the dialogue in the first 15 minutes alone made me blush, and I’m no prude. But the aim is clear: As implied by the film’s gloriously retro opening title sequence, this is a teen movie from another era, one that was at once filthier, more innocent, and infinitely funnier (perhaps due to the absence of Freddie Prinze Jr.). Superbad isn’t a fresh take on the genre by any means, but it’s an uproarious, ultimately charming diversion that might cure you, once and for all, of ever wanting to go back to high school.

Give this review a virtual wedgie when you send your e-mail to glen.baity@gmail.com.

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