Superbad ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

I think it’s easy to forget that much of this movie’s climax hinges on the independent decisions made by female characters, i.e. Jules’ sobriety and Becca getting shitfaced on her own, both of which spotlight the boys’ insecurity and the shortsightedness of “their plan.” Though Superbad’s premise—a Homeric odyssey for booze in part to loosen up objects of affection so they’d consider hooking up with dorks—is probably no longer kosher for good reasons, the way that it eventually wraps up scans as broadly progressive, especially for “the times.” Evan and Becca’s failed sexual encounter, in particular, is somehow more gloriously uncomfortable than I remembered: not only does it run the emotional gamut, from genuinely sweet (“I sooo flirt with you in math!” “Samesies!”) to heartbreaking (Becca imploring Evan to “Go get Gabby!” after she pukes really makes me wince), it also perfectly captures two kids clumsily trying to act mature by imitating what they think the other wants. I had completely forgotten that the issue of consent was actively discussed, albeit in a realistic ’90s/mid-00s teenage sort of way, and Evan levels the power imbalance by chugging tequila alone in a stranger’s bathroom so that he’s as drunk as Becca, a depressing, yet accurate outcome. It’s somewhat notable that when he decides to pull the ripcord at the last second, he does it without embarrassing or shaming her in any way.

With the exception of some homophobic language*, this “holds up” concurrent to 2019 sociocultural standards far better than I ever though it would, but even if it didn’t, it would probably still hold a place in my heart anyway. It’s a right time/right place sort of thing. During its opening weekend, my friend’s older brother somehow snuck both of us into the Michigan Ave. AMC (our second attempt after being denied entry at the River East earlier that night) and we had to crouch low as ushers checked the aisles for underage kids, which, in hindsight, seems ridiculous and something I can’t remotely imagine ever happening today. (Do multiplexes even pay employees enough to care about stopping teens from seeing R-rated movies?) If I were a little bit older or a little bit younger at the time, this might not have made any impact, but I was in the pocket to adore this crass, gentle movie about kids around my age that was operating entirely on its own wavelength while still working within, and paying homage to, a genre template. 12 years later, it’s remarkable how much it embodies an adolescent perspective, in all of its unpleasant shades, wholly without judgment. These movies should be juvenile after all.

On this umpteenth viewing, I mostly appreciated the idiosyncrasies. Barring a few exceptions, major studio movies rarely get to have this much personality anymore, no matter how little they cost. But it’s everywhere here: the R&B/funk-forward soundtrack**, the winning opening credits homage to Foxy Brown, the references to Orson Welles and Richard Pryor that are actually character specific and not examples of writer self-flattery, the emphasis on public transportation (so many bus rides), the flip phones and regional cell reception issues (“I get one bar everywhere I fuckin’ go.”). Many spare lines of dialogue are too specific not to be authentic, e.g. “We put a lot of time in this list, so don’t fuck it up and get Sambuca again.” On that tip, the straight-male-hostility writ large feels ripped from the headlines, so to speak, culminating in a devastating fight between Seth and Evan that’s both true and stunningly mean (“I’ve wasted the last three years of my life sitting around and talking bullshit with you, man.”) Apatow productions build in digressions to showcase different performers, and they’re hit-or-miss by design, but it also allowed for the scene when Evan sings “These Eyes” to avoid getting beaten up by strange cokeheads, which is as certified classic as it was seeing in theaters for the first time. It looks terrific, i.e. shot on 35mm, and particularly makes the boys’ normcore fashion really pop. Greg Mottola has never received nearly enough credit for his focused, precise direction that doesn’t call attention to itself. Plus, Rogen/Goldberg deserve praise for never making the trio’s social status “a thing”; they’re awkward geeks, but not socially incompetent enough to be a major liability.

Two moments that move me for a variety of reasons: 1. The montage of Seth, Evan, and Fogell on a typical Saturday night as Evan, in voiceover, tries to make getting hammered in a basement sound less lame than it is, and 2. The melancholic shot of them sitting on the bus, shifting awkwardly in their seats, studiously avoiding each other’s gaze, as The Four Tops’ “Are You Man Enough?” blares over the mix. You wanna talk about feeling seen?

*It’s at least worth noting that Rogen/Goldberg only put The Slur in a bully’s mouth and reserve its “cheeky” derivation for when Seth acts like a real piece of shit to Fogell. It’s rarely thrown around casually, nor does the film buy into the gay panic thing, but I accept that some could reasonably accuse me of needlessly splitting hairs.

**The Bar-Kays! Jean Knight! Curtis! I love that Kevin Corrigan and his lunatic friends are getting fucked up to Motörhead and Ted Nugent. I had forgotten that Seth and the period girl (Carla Gallo, forever underutilized post-Undeclared) dance to “Echoes” and then, later, “Big Poppa.” Similarly forgot that Officer Slater gets down to The Coup’s “Pork and Beef” at the party. (“Don’t trust the police / No justice, no peace…”)