The Superbad bandwagon has grown overcrowded in recent weeks. Entertainment journalists are tripping over bloggers in a race to herald the low-budget laugher as the funniest teen comedy since fill-in-the-blank. Amy Heckerling’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High has received the most comparisons, followed closely by its overrated spawn, American Pie.
Honestly, Superbad isn’t quite as funny as either film. It isn’t even the funniest movie released this summer. That distinction still belongs to Knocked Up, which coincidentally was directed by Superbad producer Judd Apatow. The latter packs all the profanity of the former, but sheds the legitimate emotion and dramatic consequence that made Knocked a surprisingly accessible hit.
And yet, with gallons of ink being spilled in its favor, most of the prerelease puff pieces are overlooking the unmistakable element that really sets this film apart: Superbad is super gay. It rests its fate on an unspoken — but severely suggested — romance between two men. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Marketing materials downplay the relationship, which is understandable. Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain waged a well-publicized uphill battle against intolerance when it reached theaters. Sony needs Superbad to compete in the summer marketplace before those back-to-school sales lure the coveted male demographic away from theaters, so commercials are top-heavy with the film’s other selling point: its relentless vulgarity, all of which is aimed below the belt.
There are very funny lines in Superbad, though bringing them up in mixed company is ill-advised. The script was written by best friends Seth Rogen (the Knocked Up lead who co-stars here as a juvenile police officer) and Evan Goldberg, reportedly when they were teenagers themselves. It revolves around creatively-named high-school chums Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera), who must cope with separation anxiety as they prepare to attend different colleges in the fall. Putting their fears aside, the two plan a final fling which involves — as usual — underage girls and the illegal consumption of booze.
Seth and Evan also are deeply in love, but the film isn’t brave enough to let these guys admit it. Think I’m reading into things? At first, it just seems these social outcasts share a close bond of friendship. But the depth of their concern for each other becomes overwhelming as the movie progresses. Seth shares with Evan his passion for drawing male genitalia. Evan worries constantly how Seth will react when he learns Evan will be rooming with mutual friend Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) when he goes to Dartmouth in the fall. Watch the two of them playfully flirt during an impromptu sleepover, then stumble through an uncomfortable post-hook-up conversation the next morning. And when the two find themselves alone with women at the film-ending keg party, they each look as uncomfortable as Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show.
Maybe the subtext wouldn’t have resonated so firmly if the film didn’t lag for long stretches. After establishing its rail-thin premise, Superbad abandons textbook odd couple Hill and Cera as they wander a stranger’s party and dodge the cops. We follow Fogell and his newfound police buddies, but the picture doesn’t regain its footing until the friends are reunited for the party that has prompted them to track down a laundry list of alcohol.
Why do comedies insist on establishing chemistry with actors, only to then waste energy driving wedges between the characters? It creates false drama. Is there any doubt all will be resolved by picture’s end? Superbad clumsily falters when its leads are separated, but sparkles when vulgar Hill, deadpan Cera, and spastic Mintz-Plasse playfully improvise together. Just how ‘together’ I’ll leave up to you to decide.
The two-disc DVD set includes a commentary track plus deleted scenes, gag reel, extensive making-of featurettes, audition footage, and even table readings dating back to 2002.