Talking Movies

September 22, 2019

From the Archives: Superbad

Another rummage thru the pre-Talking Movies archives finds me grappling with the Seth Rogen paradox for the very first time.

Two sex-starved teenage boys Seth and Evan try to exploit the last high-school party before graduation by agreeing to get liquor for the girls they want to hook up with. However their plan goes hysterically awry when they run into two cops.

It seems to be becoming obligatory to kneel before writer/director/producer Judd Apatow and hail all his works as being The Second Coming of American Comedy. It’s all very well to celebrate the revival of the R rated comedy purely for being R rated but surely the first concern in judging a comedy should be how funny it is, not how dirty the jokes are. The truth is that Knocked Up and Superbad are filthy minded and mouthed comedies that are actually no more abundantly supplied with laughs than something like the work of Mike White and Jack Black. What distinguishes the Apatow/Rogen oeuvre is both the sheer amount of references to sex and the crudity of those remarks.

Seth Rogen, the star of Knocked Up, co-wrote Superbad and has a supporting role in it while Apatow of course produced in his capacity as a one man studio. The plot is concerned with how Evan (Michael Cera) and Seth (Jonah Hill) can have sex before leaving High School. The answer? Alcohol: “You know when girls say ‘I was so drunk, I don’t know what I was thinking’? We have a chance to be that mistake!!”. But here’s the rub, the story sheers off into two strands. One strand follows Seth and Evan desperately trying to acquire booze for the party hosted by Jules (the husky voiced Emma Stone). The other sees uber-nerd Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) fall in with two lunatic cops played by Rogen and Bill Hader. Literally every scene of his adventures with these cops is screamingly hilarious. The other strand with Seth and Evan isn’t, as it’s so focused on gross out moments that it frequently forgets to be funny. Being extremely realistic about the stupidity of teenage boys is not a good enough reason for not having enough jokes in a comedy.

Indeed you can’t help but feel that all the talking dirty is some way of hiding away the sentimental soft-spot Rogen and Goldberg have for their characters, hiding away the most appealing side of their writing in favour of the most easy headline grabbing controversial side. Indeed the unlikely sweetness is reminiscent of previous Apatow /Rogen works. The characters of Jules and Evan are extremely likeable and in the denouement incredibly and sensibly honourable. Seth and Becca (Martha MacIsaac), respectively, learn from them how to behave like decent human beings. Was that emotional maturity the reason Rogen and Goldberg wrote the filth, as a necessary part of a character arc, or was it just a handy way of positioning their film in the marketplace? It’s impossible to know but it produced one of the best comedies of the year in either case.

3/5

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