Sunday, August 12, 2007

"Superbad" -- * * *

When the word on a new film is “it’s the funniest movie ever!” or other ejaculatory praises of the like, it’s difficult to keep your expectations in check. So when I got around to seeing “Superbad” for the first time a little over a month ago, I admit the baggage I was carrying in was a little much to bear. Is it the funniest movie ever? No, and not even of the year. But thankfully, it’s still often hilarious.

Our leads, Evan (Michael Cera) and Seth (Jonah Hill) have been best friends forever, but as graduation is approaching, they’re starting to realize—but not acknowledge—that their going to separate colleges may be the beginning of the end of their friendship. Seth didn’t work as hard as Evan throughout high school, and now Evan is heading off to Dartmouth and Seth is going to be left in the dust. Looking at a weekend party as a last rites of sorts, the two will attempt to procure booze and put into action their as-yet-untested sexual skills on two girls they’ve been eyeing through high school. After all, as Seth says, “You don’t want a girl to think you suck dick at fucking pussy.”

On the actual night, after their acquaintance Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who has obtained a fake ID with the name ‘McLovin,’ has fumbled his attempt at getting beer for the three, Seth and Evan are on their own and do what they can to have the night pan out successfully. Fogell/McLovin spends the remainder of his night with irresponsible cops (played by co-writer Seth Rogen and “SNL” cast member Bill Hader), and experiences what is sure to be the defining night of his life.

The plot of “Superbad” isn’t going to be the driving force behind it—“nerdy high schools try to get beer and get laid” isn’t exactly an innovative concept—what’s going to possibly turn this into a iconic film is the star-making performances at its core and the fall-down-funny quotable dialogue. Even if not all the jokes work, there’s still a high enough success rate for it to be an especially successful entry in the “teen-sex” genre and offers enough depth to rise about the branding.

Except for the Rogen/Hader cop characters (more on them later), these are all recognizable figures/characters, and much like “Rocket Science,” a big part of their success is their familiarity to people we’ve known or encountered. Rogen and Evan Goldberg supposedly wrote the first draft of “Superbad” (which I’ve read) when they were 13, and it shows, in a good and bad way. This was clearly made by people who remember what it was like to be amongst these people, but it also succumbs to groin kicks, no less than two comical people-getting-hit-by-a-car sequences, and a considerably more crass sensibility than the two films Judd Apatow actually directed.

There’s no doubt that “Superbad” is going to be talked about as purely a hilarious movie by virtually anyone who mentions it, so it might come as somewhat as a surprise that its dramatic moments work really, really well-- even better than its comical ones to some extent. When Seth and Evan actually come to verbal blows about their impending “break-up,” it’s genuinely heartbreaking stuff, and might be painfully recognizable for certain members of the audience. Scenes late in the movie where the pair profess their platonic love for one another are going to be met with a mix of nervous and whole-hearted laughter—but they actually are strangely touching while being hilarious in their grandiosity (“Why can’t we say it every day?”).

What makes “Superbad” worth seeing is the two central performances by Cera and Hill. As much as I love them independently—Cera was brilliant as George Michael on “Arrested Development” and Hill is the bright spot of any movie he appears in—I would not be upset at all if these two announced that they would only make movies together from now on. They have a chemistry greater than any romantic-comedy pair, and they don’t even need a lame “asian dude and black guy” gimmick to make it work.

Cera’s specialty has always been his timidity, and nearly every line he delivers here is a masterpiece of awkwardness. His performance here should afford him plenty of future movie roles, and promises to turn him into a dorky sex symbol in his own right (on the way out of my screening I overheard two girls proclaim they were “horny for Michael Cera”).

But the real revelation here is Hill, delivering a profanely rapid-fire tour-de-force star-making comedic performance that people will no doubt respond to much the way they did to Vince Vaughn in “Wedding Crashers.” The difference is, this is a much better performance. Like Vaughn, Hill has charisma/confidence to spare and knows his way around a one-liner, but while Vaughn starting to become annoying by a certain point in “Crashers,” Hill gets funnier and funnier.

"Superbad” is very funny, and actually a good movie—not just a joke machine—but it’s definitely not a perfect one. I’m certainly not an advocate of all comedies being 90 minutes, but for a movie with such a threadbare plot, just-under-2-hours is pushing it. Though I bemoaned "Knocked Up" for being too long, there weren't actual dead spots that clearly should have been cut. "Superbad," on the other hand, is almost painfully bloated. There's at least a thirty-minute chunk in its middle section that I barely cracked a smile at (the first party Seth and Adam attend, and McLovin's bonding with the cops) that it was difficult to get back into the groove in the film's very strong final 20-30 minutes.

Okay, I hate to be the only guy in the room on this one, but I didn’t go apeshit over McLovin. Everyone’s loving this performance and citing him as a highlight, but I think it’s more the idea of the character that people seem to be grooving on. After hearing the description of the character, and laughing at his delivery of “I am McLovin” every time in the trailer, I was ready to love the dude. But, while Mintz-Plasse does fine, he doesn’t seem to have much of a grasp on comedic timing, and does especially poorly when forced to share scenes with Hill and Cera. Like I said, he’s still convincing in the part, I just wish I found him as funny as others seem to. Except for his delivery of "I have a boner," I just sort of stared when he was on screen, acknowledging it was an accurate portrayal of an awkward, nerdy kid, but waiting to find him funny.

As for the cop characters; they’re less problematic since Rogen and Hader are naturally funny guys, but they seem like they wandered in from a different movie. They stick out as cartoonish comic creations that don’t really resemble human beings, unlike the rest of the film’s characters. Unlike “Knocked Up,” which established itself as a real world with fully defined characters who happened to all be especially skilled at witty, off-the-cuff remarks, this struck me a little inconsistent. And I understand Rogen clearly wanted a significant part in his own movie, but there's no real reason for them to be featured as prominently as they are, and by the halfway point, I was just sick of them. Except for some uproarious improvved lines Rogen spouts while raiding a house party, I kept waiting to get back to Hill and Cera.

I’m sorry if I’m giving off the impression that I didn’t enjoy “Superbad” overall; I did. It’s rare that a movie can have jokes that make me laugh as hard as this, and it’s one of the few movies that I’d openly embrace becoming a franchise, if only to see these characters again. Just when a movie is as hyped up as this one was for me, I’m maybe a tad bit more perceptive of its flaws. I’m actually thankful that I saw it as early as I did because it’s becoming even more of a buzz-monster since then.

Despite it being not nearly as good (or funny) as you may have heard, “Superbad” is a member of the elite bunch of movies this summer that I can assure you will be worth your eleven dollars (or however much those of you not in New York get to pay at the multiplex), and is better than we usually get in late August. I highly doubt it has the capability of reaching “Knocked Up’s” success—I’ll predict it does about 60-70% of “Knocked’s” business, which is still great—but the word-of-mouth on this thing is going to be huge. Geeks who see a lot of themselves in it, as well as frat boys laughing at the expense of the geeks onscreen (there were numerous dudes with backwards baseball caps calling each other 'faggot' in my theater), are going to love it, and I doubt there’ll be a dorm room without a DVD copy of “Superbad” by this time next year.


Post a Comment

<< Home