Superbad is a hard-R teen comedy that contains no nudity, no intense violence, and sexual situations that would be considered tame by the standards of basic cable. The R comes from the language, an almost non-stop flurry of F-bombs and sexual references that sounds like Kevin Smith's Jay and Silent Bob having an argument with characters from a David Mamet play.
I mention the language because it's essential to why the film works—and as a warning for the aurally squeamish (at the screening I attended, the studio monitor counted eight walkouts). In many ways, this is the raunchiest teen movie since the first American Pie, but it also has a fundamental sweetness and honesty that most teen movies lack.
Superbad's minimal plot concerns a night in the lives of Seth and Evan (Jonah Hill and Michael Cera), two college-bound misfits who find themselves charged with getting booze for a party. Sadly, the only person they know with a fake ID is the frog-voiced, baby-faced Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), whose fake license identifies him as a 25-year-old Hawaiian known only as "McLovin."
As in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, a seemingly simple mission becomes the occasion for shaggy dog chaos. Seth and Evan become consumed with the need to get the liquor that could loosen the inhibitions of their respective female crushes, while McLovin falls into the hands of the worst cops in the history of cinema. The results include several fights, guns being discharged and an a cappella rendition of the Guess Who's "These Eyes" in a room full of coke fiends.
The script is by Knocked Up star Seth Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg, who started writing it as teenagers, and they've finally seen it produced by Knocked Up auteur Judd Apatow (Rogen appears in the film as one of the idiot cops alongside Saturday Night Live's Bill Hader).
The resulting film has a keen ear for the way teenagers talk. Seth and Evan don't sound like self-aware adults so much as two kids trying to mask their confusion and frustration with the most adult words at their disposal. When they finally deal with the fact that they're going to different colleges in the fall, there's a real sense of emotional depth among the laughs.
For all of its comic overdrive, Superbad occasionally slips into idle. An extended sequence where Seth and Evan find themselves at a dangerous party while McLovin hangs out with the cops goes on too long, sapping the film of much of its energy. Still, there's a lot to like: Hill, who had a hilarious, deleted rant about Brokeback Mountain in Knocked Up (look it up on YouTube), has a great combination of profane bluster and touching vulnerability, while Cera, who's starred on TV's Arrested Development and does a funny online comedy at www.clarkandmichael.com, has a wonderfully nervous, deadpan delivery.
Like Knocked Up, much of Superbad's gross-out humor works because it's based in relatable moments of embarrassment and insecurity that surround a surprisingly conservative core. Yes, the plot is about a couple of horndogs trying to lose it, but the film doesn't overlook the insecurity and lack of self-esteem that's propelling these characters into this plot in the first place. This leads to several screamingly funny drunken set pieces and an awkward, poignantly understated final scene.
The film doesn't go out of its way to condemn teenage drinking, sex and partying, but it does make the subtle point that what's really important is an emotional connection with someone, and that people act really, really stupid when they're drunk. True, it makes its point with vomit, swearing and doodles of a certain part of the anatomy, but it's still a valid one. Although Superbad will doubtlessly be frowned upon by many parental groups for its unrelenting vulgarity, there's a pure heart beneath the dirty words and bodily fluids.
Superbad opens Friday throughout the Triangle.