There's a plus-side to over-exposure, I've decided. Had the Superbad trailer just rolled by once, or even twice, I wouldn't have seen the film. Because...well..."teenage sex-romp" isn't exactly my favorite genre.
But I ended up seeing the trailer...oh...maybe ten times or more. Which, coming from somebody who doesn't watch much television that isn't on DVD, is an awful lot. And you know what? It started to grow on me. I started to find a lot of it very funny. And, what's more, I became intrigued by the undercurrents of basic male friendship. Each time the trailer re-appeared, I became a little more hopeful that maybe, just maybe, Superbad was actually going to be a good movie.
Superbad actually did a fantastic job of capturing the correct emotion for its subject matter. It doesn't look at its protagonists with the upturned-nose of advanced wisdom. It doesn't hold them up as examples of perfection in innocence. The appropriate way to view the situations presented in the film is with a mix of nostalgia, sympathy and understanding. A little bit of fondness, too. And maybe just a pinch of reluctant respect.
Essentially, the film is the story of one day in the lives of three friends (Evan, Seth and Fogell) on the verge of their college years. There's a short coda that takes place the next morning, but the meat of the film all unfolds over the course of a single day, and that was a very wise mechanism for the telling of this story. The one-day restriction serves many purposes. It's more realistic, for one, as you are basically experiencing events as they happen, and not from some latter-day vantage point. Also, it gives the film a sense of immediacy...major events are separated by hours, or even minutes, rather than days or weeks--this really helps later scenes to build upon what's come earlier.
But, most of all, the one-day restriction symbolizes the unrestricted adventures of youth. There is no sense of scheduling, or of order, or of consequence. Somebody mentions a party, and, all of a sudden, you head off for the party. Somebody says they need alcohol and, all at once, you throw yourself into a quest for alcohol. A girl winked at you? Follow her...
It's a very realistic exploration of the young-adult-male mindset. Today is the day that matters. Tomorrow is a whole other lifetime away. Early in the film Seth's car gets towed, and though he does refer to it again later, we never see the consequence of this. Why? Because there won't be any consequences to face until his parents find out. Which, for the time being, can be postponed. If it happens in the future, it doesn't matter.
On a larger scale, the same reasoning is applied to the boys' impending split for college. Seth didn't make it into Dartmouth, which means he's going to have to find a social life away from Evan. One of the best things Superbad does is address this issue without ever really addressing it at all. Everything that needs to be said is said in the way the characters avoid the issue...going often to great lengths to restructure their conversation so that they won't have to deal with the reality of losing the other's company.
The film does this so well that when the issue is finally broached almost--but even then not quite--directly, the two characters come to blows...not for any real reason except for the fact that they are both frustrated by what's looming up ahead, and they've both repressed that frustration to the point that it manifests itself in a very ugly way.
This is exactly--and I mean exactly--what I wanted the movie to do. It could have easily allowed itself to become the sex-crazed hump-fest that advocates behavior that might just qualify as date-rape. You know. Like every other lusty/drunken teenage film made since 1990 or so.
But, instead, we got a very, very real film about friends...about one final adventure together...about the end of one life and the beginning of another (through yet another brilliant use of the one-day mechanism of story-telling). It's honest and it's bold in that honesty. It doesn't flinch. Toward the end of the film Evan and Seth have a real moment together, expressing feelings for each other that only sound strange because they're being articulated. They're saying to each other the kind of things most men only ever feel, and never say out loud. The consequence is that the film is basically daring the audience to laugh at that point.
Is it funny? Yes. But it's also real. Are you allowed to laugh at their expressions of love for each other? Of course you are. But...wouldn't you really just be laughing at yourself? Wouldn't you really just be laughing at the last time you really had a friend that close? It's a wonderfully duplicitous moment in the film, made all the better by the truly great performances given by Michael Cera and Jonah Hill, about whom I won't say another word for fear of cheapening their contributions to the film's success just by trying to put it into words.
I can't, in good conscience, review this film without devoting some time to Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who plays the third friend, Fogell. It's Fogell who really threatens to steal the film, and it's perhaps the best testament to the skills of Cera and Hill that they managed to prevent him from doing so. Fogell's journey over the course of the day is, in many ways, the most triumphant, but, in other ways, the most empty. I say that not as a shot at the film, but rather as a respectful observation of its structure.
There's no reason to give any more away than the trailer has already done, but it suffices to say that Superbad, again, does exactly the right thing in its treatment of Fogell. It takes a character that nobody else takes seriously, pairs him up with two cops that nobody takes seriously, and they form a sort of bond...three outcasts, though all for different reasons, leaning on each other, bigging each other up...basically becoming friends. In a lesser film, the Fogell scenes would have been limp comic buffers separating the real action of the film. They would have existed just for the sake of filling up holes in the plot, functioning only as cheap, convenient cutaways. In Superbad, however, it's a real parallel story, populated with characters as rich and genuine as you'll find in its complementary half.
Right through the end, Superbad handles itself surprisingly well, especially when you take into consideration the thousands of ways the film could have gone wrong. A genuine effort must have been made to hold this film together, but it all happens so effortlessly you might not appreciate the restraint...simply because it never drew attention to itself.
Each of the characters has a specific female character in mind and somewhere toward the end of the film I began to fear that the ghostly promise of the trailer was going to come true and I'd be treated to American Pie in sheep's clothing. But I'm pleased to announce--and I feel it my duty to do so, spoiler or not--that Superbad maintains the exact degree of integrity it needed to maintain. Not too little, not too much. It was absolutely perfect for its own sake. And that, my friends, is down to good writing.
Criticisms? Well, there are a few, but they're pretty minor. The police officer double-act was pretty hilarious, and I was willing to grant them just about everything they did, but, at times, they did sort of cross the line from indirectly-harmful-oaf to legitimately-bad-person. Which, oddly, isn't something Superbad should have had a problem pulling off...but the change, when it comes, is kind of off-putting and not completely earned. It's just a tad much, and it's the only thing in the movie that really pulled me out of its own reality and made me question the wisdom of not trimming (or reworking) certain moments. I'm not saying these characters shouldn't be allowed that sort of shadowy side...just that Superbad should have handled it better. In a way, it did itself a disservice by handling so much of its material so well...the single time its character-development falters, it really stands out.
Also, the bit during the credits was a bit much. I'm willing to grant it, though, because--well--it's the credits. It's not really part of the film...just a reward for being good. Not my cup of tea...and not particularly funny...but it all happens after the film proper and that renders it pretty harmless as far as I'm concerned.
All in all, this is the most thoroughly enjoyable film I've seen in theaters in...well...a long, long time. It's been years, I think, since I've been this happy to have spent $8 on a movie.
And kudos for not specifying a specific timeframe for the film. I predict Superbad is going to age extremely well, its story spanning, as it does, generations in terms of style, music and technology. There's really no one place in history this film belongs, and that's helpful...and, maybe, that's the idea. It's not about any one specific period of young-adulthood. It's about being a man. It's about being a man at the precise moment that one becomes a man. It's about looking back over your shoulder at the life that ended the night before. It's about moving on in spite of never wanting to leave.
It's about friendship. And about everything you never did get to say to all the people you needed to say it to.