Could Greg Mottola's Superbad, the latest offering from producer Judd Apatow and his merry band of comic geniuses, be their finest work yet? Amazingly, yes.
Structurally, Superbad is essentially a "road trip" movie in the vein of Vacation and pretty much every Farelly brothers movie ever made, following the protagonists as they journey from point A to point B, finding its humor in the variety of obstacles they encounter en route to their destination. In the case of Superbad, the destination is the fabled "end of high school graduation blowout," the kind of legendary party where, according to adolescent male lore, inhibitions are dropped, standards are lowered, and a pair of geeks like Evan (Michael Cera) and Seth (Jonah Hill) have a chance to hook up with girls who would otherwise be hopelessly out of their league.
It's that tantalizing possibility that leads our teenage heroes to bite off far more than they can chew. In an effort to impress their respective crushes, Evan and Seth promise to supply the party with booze, despite the fact that they're both underage and lacking any access to alcohol. Desperate, they're forced to enlist the aid of uber-dork pal Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), the annoying third wheel whose recently procured fake ID suddenly makes him an essential part of the plan. Armed with little more than hormone-fueled determination and quite possibly the worst fake ID ever made, the trio embarks on an epic -- and utterly hilarious -- quest.
Simply stated, Superbad is the funniest movie I've seen this year, superior even to the much-heralded Knocked Up and destined to replace American Pie as the current standard-bearer for the teen sex comedy genre. While the story contains more than its share of raunchy humor, director Mottola's primary focus is trained squarely on the infinite awkwardness of adolescence and the endless opportunities for embarrassment it provides. The film's ingenious script -- the first collaboration between longtime pals Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg -- explores the arena of teenage anxiety more skillfully than any movie since Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
Casting -- a potential stumbling block for any adolescent-themed flick -- is spot-on in Superbad. Stars Cera and Hill possess a chemistry on par with comedic duos twice their age. In a breakout performance, Cera manages to steal the show in the role of the cautious straight man Evan to Hill's boisterous, perpetually exasperated Seth, delivering most of the film's funniest lines. Fans of the short-lived series Arrested Development will spot more than a little of George Michael Bluth in Cera's performance -- a happy discovery for those of us still smarting from the show's premature cancellation.
At 114 minutes, Superbad runs a little long for a comedy, largely due to the extended subplot in which a pair of slacker cops, played by Rogen and Bill Hader, take Fogell on a raucous joyride. To be fair, I didn't realize this fact until afterward, primarily because I was too busy laughing my *ss off. In a comedy, such structural deficiencies are perfectly allowable -- if they're funny.
The only place where Superbad truly falters is during the movie's closing moments. Director Mottola tries awkwardly to inject some of the trademark Judd Apatow "heart" into the conclusion, in which co-dependant pals Evan and Seth finally confront the separation anxiety that's been steadily building throughout the story. The moments, replete with a not-so-subtle homoeroticism, feel forced, almost grafted upon the story in order to provide some sort of "message" where one is entirely unnecessary. It's entirely ok to make an R-rated comedy about teenagers trying to get laid, without an after school special "What we've learned" moral at the end.
And what did I learn? The Apatow Crew is showing no signs of slowing down.
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