Aug 28, 2007


With very high expectations, given the glowing reviews and the box office success, I went to see Superbad, the new Judd Apatow production. I'm a huge fan of the 40 Year Old Virgin, less so of Knocked Up, but still I consider Apatow a phenomenon in recent film comedy history.
For a teenage buddy comedy, I noticed that around me was the most diverse film audience I have ever seen in a theater. There were plenty of women, young and older, plenty of young males, but also older males, black and white, and plenty of diverse people. Alarmingly, there were a couple of children. This movie should be x-rated. You don't see it, but boy do you hear it, and it is unbelievably filthy.
Superbad is an unlikely love story between two mega nerds, Evan and Seth, played by the fantastic Michael Cera, who is a young master of the excruciatingly gentle deadpan, and by Jonah Hill; physically, the only true heir to the great Zero Mostel, and in this movie an unbridled monster of male teenage need. The filth that comes from this young man's mind, let alone his lips, is heart-stopping. I'm all for freedom of expression and particularly freedom of sexual expression, and freedom in comedy, where nothing is sacred, and long live Lenny Bruce and all that, but the obscenity in this movie becomes a bit tiresome after a while. There are the seeds of subversion in this extremely explicit, and sometimes funny, talk of sex, but how effective can subversion be if it becomes monotonous? I wonder whether Superbad does in fact reflect the culture or is it just that the writers have dirty minds? Are kids today so truly influenced by porn and so obsessed with sex? Or is Superbad setting the pace?
Still, even though I confess that I found the relentless barrage of vulgarity a bit off-putting, I welcome that a mainstream hit movie will make all those Bible thumpers call for the apocalypse. Now they will have even more reason to blame the Jews in Hollywood for the evils in this world. The obscenity is a slap in the face to the hypocritical virtuousness of an immoral God-fearing president, and as such, bring it on!
What Superbad makes clear is that the culture in America is permissive in everything but in deed. For a teenager, it is faux liberty. Porn is abundant, but real sex is not. Booze is abundant, but it can't be had if you are a teen, (and still they do get sloshed); adulthood is thrown right in front of your face, and it is a scary thing. Superbad explores the dark side of the nerd's angst, and by God, this is the angsiest trip since Gregor Samsa turned into a roach.
I read somewhere that Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg wrote this script when they were teenagers, and it shows, even though it has been massaged into something more substantial. The movie is great and most funny at exploring the tribulations of the teen mind. In the surprisingly tender coupling of Seth and Evan you have the division between civilization and barbarity. Evan, the one with the moral conscience, is a sweet bumbling loser with genuine decency. There is quite a disturbing scene of a sloshed young girl being extremely sexually aggresive with him. The moment of truth has arrived, and Evan is mortified and terrified, not only because of the act itself but because of the moral implications of taking advantage.
The lust and fear verging on panic of women is a constant in Apatow's male buddy comedy as is his insistence that real sex and intimacy make men very afraid.
Seth, on the other hand, is a monster of selfishness and his hysteria is palpable, as is his hurt at being abandoned by his friend. The best parts of the movie are when you see these two in action, whether they are parsing the mysteries of sex as if they were Talmudic scholars and particularly when they have a spat. They have a true relationship, a dependency that staves off loneliness and fear, and Hill is wonderful when he is wounded. Most reviews I read talked about the sweetness of the movie, so I was rather taken aback by its depiction of bully behavior, which is a constant in teenage life, and in this movie, practiced by adults as well, since in the Apatow universe (and therefore possibly in America) no man is ever really a mature adult.
The more puerile parts, like a too long subplot involving two irresponsible, childish cops and Fogel (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), the biggest nerd ever to hit a movie screen, are intermittently funny but they distract from the meatier conceit of male bonding in the time of hysteria.
I love that this motley bunch of Jews, white nerds in a totally white universe, sway and jive, or try their best, like superbad black guys. That's another subtle dig at a culture that is desperately in need of macho cred. Apparently, nowadays only ghetto talk provides that and the actors and writers know there is nothing funnier than a white nerd trying to pass off for a badass motherfucker. The funky music score, by the way, is excellent.
The movie redeems itself by ending like a love story, with a tender (platonic) love scene between the two friends, who go on to face their respective rites of passage on their own, lost in a mall, as befits the new romantic comedy in America.

No comments:

Post a Comment