Superbad

Reviewed by By Patrick Z. McGavin

Superbad is a profane and glorious miracle, a virtually seamless confluence of perfect actors, a terrific script and a gifted director clearly anxious to work in a theatrical feature format.

Directed by the talented Greg Mottola, making his second feature, “Superbad” takes one of the most disreputable and played-out stories, the teenage sex comedy, and detonates it through a shrewd and unapologetic mixing of the uproarious and outrageous.

Produced by Judd Apatow, the movie, like Knocked Up, has some occasionally flat movements and gets a bit repetitive and overextended near the end. Part of the extreme fun is in the movie literally trying out every joke, with the daring and willingness to allow a few to miss their mark. This is smart, knowing and unbelievably funny film that plays like an unholy alliance of Philip Roth and Woody Allen. (Significantly, Mottola has acted in several of Allens films.) The screwball humorsmart, urbane and unmistakably Jewishis perfectly shaped around the simultaneous dread and allure of the young body.

“Superbad” is the funniest mainstream comedy of the last few years, and it is highly strange that distributor Sony is waiting until almost the end of the summer to release the movie. Its the rare studio movie that truly understands the dexterous speed and timing of its very funny jokes.

Mottola impressively uses the 1:85 theatrical format to grant a necessary freedom and open space to his terrific actors that truly allows them to let go and work out their seemingly improvisational riffs. Like the early work of Roth and Allen, the movie has a very precise and terrifying sense of sex-obsessed young outsiders desperate to resolve their own inchoate feelings of masculinity and male friendship and satisfy their desperate longing to hook up with the opposite sex.

One has to go back to Richard Linklaters superb third feature Dazed and Confused to find something so sharp, observant and explosively funny and also studded with sly bursts of pensive recognition and deep pain. The imaginative credit sequence, showing the movies hero Seth (Jonah Hill) in silhouette grooving, is rendered in the style of late Seventies comic book pop art, the first telling example of the movies intelligence and separation from the pack. The storys central relationship is played between best friends, Seth and Evan (Michael Cera).

They are Los Angeles high school seniors. At their school, they are outcasts, too square and unpopular to gain admittance to the glittering social world of their peers. Even so, they clearly have a bond, a friendship that transcends the schools rigid social order. They have an ease and naturalness, and it is clear by the first scene together, driving to school, they have a riotous give and take, Seth the more frantic and outrageous, Evan introverted though smarter, more sure of himself.

The two writers, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, brilliantly trade off the psychological and physical differences of the two characters. The cherubic Seth is the Super ego to the Id of the inward, more recessive Evan. Seth is colorful, hyper funny, and wired by a raging, uncontrollable lust. Evan is cautious, thoughtful and inner driven. The groups third outsider, Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is initially perceived as the timid dweeb, someone even Seth is reluctant to include in their social plotting.

Constantly excluded from the peers coveted party culture, the three seek their own thrills, often to hilariously and discomfiting ends, like binge drinking or being violently ejected from a strip club. After the sexy, nervy Jules (Emma Stone) invites the three to a party that night, the blustery, overwhelmed Seth, claiming to have procured a fake ID, promises to supply the alcohol. Evan is equally turned on the by prospect of finally making a more direct connection with the earthy, beautiful Becca (Martha MacIssac). Seth reasons: You know those girls they say, Man, I was so gone last night, and I shouldnt have slept with that guy. Dont you understand, we could be that mistake.

Fogell is the one that has secured the fake identification, setting in motion a sustained riff on his counter life as McLovin, a 25-year-old Hawaiian organ donor. The movies middle section is structured like a classic odyssey as the three embark on an increasingly elaborate mission to acquire the illicit alcohol. Mottola throws out all the stops, interweaving fantasy, hallucination and absurdity; the key is that he grounds the material in highly recognizable behavior, keyed to the thrill and freedom of amoral behavior. Two violent movements separate the group. Fogell finds himself in the strange company of two hilariously incompetent police officers (wonderfully played by co-writer Rogen and Bill Hader). Increasingly desperate, Seth and Evan plunge into an even greater nightmare and find themselves trapped at a different party tinged with a strange undercurrent of menace.

The movie deftly pirouettes around the three scenarios: Fogell mixed up with the cops misadventures, Evan and Seth trying to extricate themselves from an increasingly strange social gathering and the available women of the suddenly raging party. In shifting aggressively between moments of private embarrassment, dovetailing incidents and quick thinking, Superbad continually subverts expectations. The comedy takes on multiple fronts. Its classic, developed through rhyming movements and physical cutting, playing off all manner of contrasts and feeling, the anarchy and preposterousness of the kids constantly upsetting the civil, organized world.

The humor is funny, smart and bracing. As fast and funny as the dialogue is, Mottola finds a visual equivalent with his own gags, like the overweight Seth being outrun on the high school track by an amputee. In the movies funniest moment, Seth recounts his raging adolescent habit (It affects eight percent of all kids) of drawing phalluses that is just one of several explanations of his estrangement from his classmates. For all of the movies rude impudence, Superbad demonstrates a sympathy and engagement with its major and supporting characters. Unlike a lot of high school comedies, the movie never turns sentimental or soft in the head. The comedy is not always sustained, like a strange, almost repellant riff on menstrual blood is a bit too malicious and unfunny.

The three leads are sensational. Hill does amazing physical things with a part, the tortured body expressions, and the private anguish that are truly something to behold. Cera has the most difficult part, playing the laid back, thoughtful one. Mintz-Plasse is the revelation, bringing a subtlety of movement and clever personality.

Finally, Superbad is confirmation of a striking talent that has been absent from movies for too long. Mottolas first film, The Daytrippers, was absurdly passed over by Sundance, but it won the top prize at Slamdance and later was selected for Critics Week at the Cannes Film Fest. Mottola and his cinematographer Russ Alsobrook give the images a sureness and tangy swiftness. From the start, the movie just explodes, creating a wave to just ride on. The pleasure is all ours.

Cast

Seth – Jonah Hill
Evan – Michael Cera
Fogell – Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Officer Slater – Bill Hader
Officer Michaels – Seth Rogen
Becca – Martha MacIsaac
Jules – Emma Stone
Nicola – Aviva
Francis the Driver – Joe Lo Truglio
Mark – Kevin Corrigan

Credits

MPAA Rating: R.
Running time: 111 Minutes.

A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Columbia Pictures presentation of an Apatow Co. production.
Produced by Judd Apatow, Shauna Robertson. Executive producers, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg. Co-producer, Dara Weintraub.
Directed by Greg Mottola.
Screenplay, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg.
Camera: Russ Alsobrook.
Editor: William Kerr.
Music: Lyle Workman.
Production designer: Chris Spellman.
Art director: Gerald Sullivan
Costume designer: Debra McGuire.