Aug 17, 2017

Why "Superbad" Continues to Draw Us In 10 Years Later

Scene from Superbad

Along with Knocked Up, there was no movie that revitalized the R-Rated comedy quite like director Greg Motolla's Superbad. As the genre was going stale, it took Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's script that they wrote in high school to turn things around. It was a story that had a simple premise of teenagers buying booze in a film that ended with a montage of phallic drawings. It was edgy and solidified the rise of actors Michael Cera and Oscar nominee Jonah Hill. It was also the first film of Oscar winner Emma Stone. It's an insane pedigree to have, and the film's crass heart that couldn't go long without cursing all over itself has managed to endure not only because of the jokes, but in large part because Rogen and Golberg knew what made high school so important: the confusion that comes with friendship.

In some ways, the film is a bit confusing and out of time. Despite making jokes about MySpace, the opening credits are a retro smorgasbord set to The Bar-Kay's "Too Hot to Stop" as silhouettes danced in the background like old iPod commercials. The film followed its own style, and it would do so with one profane comment after another. This was done largely by Hill, who seemed like odd casting given that he was 24 at the time and looked older, through improvisational take downs that almost seemed to be patted on the back by co-star Cera. Cera was awkward, and it would be a typecasting curse over the next few years. However, his silent insecurity here is brilliant and captures the introverted desire to be respected and, like most guys in this type of movie, make it with a lady. Hill is more of a raw nerve and is an unexpected force of crass heart.
Richard Roeper once called it The Lord of the Rings of teen comedies. It's a bit of a misleading expression for a film that evolves over one night and doesn't feature anything more than teenage boys fantasizing about their heroic conquests. Still, it is a film that pushes a different kind of epic journey as a quest to get beer to a party is interfered by many problems. It's what's necessary for these films to exist as more than short films. Even then, the world wasn't ready for the brilliance of Rogen and Goldberg, who turn the concept of a general sex comedy into a bigger study of friendship at a crossroads. Hill and Cera aren't likely to see each other by the end of the semester. They are each going to different schools, and this ribald journey is just as much an excuse to hang out as it is achieve the male fantasy.
Rogen co-stars as a police officer (along with Bill Hader) who befriends Hill and Cera's friend, played by newcomer Christopher Mintz-Plasse. They take the feeble nerd under their wings after he fails to buy alcohol with a fake I.D. that reads "McLovin'" from Hawaii. While the film's logic is largely rooted in reality, the police are seen as the fun loving manchildren that Judd Apatow would help bring ascension to throughout the decade. For all of the memorable lines, the story endures because of that male bonding that is sometimes dangerous and lacks an ability to be public about it. While Rogen would play up this gag in various films with James Franco, Superbad was his ode to growing up and finding a way to belong. Cera and Hill are the only ones who are compatible, and the audience learns to worry about their separation the longer things go on.
What's more unexpected than the sentimentality of the film was how it impacted the film industry. Against a $20 million budget, the film earned $169 million internationally, becoming one of the highest grossing R-Rated comedies in history. It helped to spawn interest in the genre with many trying to capture the magic of the film that was sold as a contemporary masterpiece the likes of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Among its highest, and oddest, honors was helping to launch the career of Emma Stone, who went on to receive two Oscar nominations that included a win for Best Actress for La La Land. While Cera received the immediate success thanks to this and Juno, Hill has managed to have the longevity thanks to two Oscar nominations and work with directors like Bennett Miller (Moneyball) and Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street). While the film's lingo has largely been absent from pop culture in subsequent years, concepts like McLovin still exist. 
By some irony, Apatow's third outing in 2007 (Walk Hard) would be a financial dud after the back-to-back success of Knocked Up and Superbad. Even then, these three films embody what the next 10 years of comedy would be, whether it be the stoner stylings of Rogen, or the profane "John Hughes with a pottymouth" sincerity of Superbad, or an ensemble cast that would beak out into bigger and better things (even if Dave Franco wasn't in the movie for even a minute, he still has had a reputable career since). It was comedy that was founded in the script stages, but wasn't afraid to evolve into something grander in the improvisational stages. It may make the films feel at times rambling, but it has produced the modern sensibility of comedy. Even if Superbad isn't talked about with the frequency of its teen comedy forefathers, it deserves credit for having the uncanny gift of predicting what came next.
Superbad at least did one thing right: it was very funny. For the disjointed period setting and awkward casting of Hill as a teenager six years removed, it still managed to work with what it had. You became convinced of the world over time and found something relative to its main characters. Even if the journey seems a little too grandiose to be real, it definitely reflected a bond that everyone shares in high school. There is that need to have a partner in crime, someone to share embarrassing secrets with, and accept that sometimes you accidentally punch people's breasts. Even if the argument can be made for Cera's one note shyness as an actor, Superbad reflects why he will always be valuable as an actor. He has a quietness akin to Bob Newhart, only ever striking when the moment's right. Nobody knows what lies ahead for the characters of Superbad, but at least the actors have largely had a surprise amount of success, given how few actors from movies like American Pie won Oscars within 10 years. Now there's some bragging rights.

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