Prior to "Superbad," if I'd ever uttered the words "thought-provoking teen sex romp," I'd have punched myself.
Not in the face, because I'd probably wuss out at the last second and just slap my cheek, but a good solid rib-shot, at least. Something that would induce pain without damaging my celebrity career as some guy with his picture on a website. Teens trying to get lucky may at times be funny, but in terms of things that help us understand ourselves, movies like "Porky's" and "American Pie" are about as useful as an empty beer can.
Which doesn't matter so long as they're funny and have some memorable scenes and characters. And "Superbad," directed by Greg Mottola and produced by super-stud Judd Apatow, has lots of these things.
Jonah Hill and Michael Cera (of "Arrested Development" fame) are two semi-nerdy high schoolers whose uber-nerdy friend Christopher Mintz-Plasse gets a fake ID. In the volatile world of teenagerdom, this immediately vaults them to potential hero status, as the girls they're after are throwing a party and need someone to bring them the booze that will make the party worth attending.
Booze-buying's a simple enough task once you've existed for 21 years and are thus deemed mature enough to exchange money for beer, but for the kids it's an odyssey. At the liquor store, Mintz-Plasse gets entangled with a couple of the worst cops since "Bad Lieutenant" (Bill Hader and Seth Rogen, who co-wrote with partner Evan Goldberg) while Hill and Cera head for an adult party that's supposed to be brimming with stealable liquor.
For better or worse, improv dominates comedies these days, and "Superbad's" an example of how hard that can rule--though that shouldn't exactly come as a surprise, since Judd Apatow is like a modern-day King Midas, only instead of turning movies to gold he turns them to hilarious. Pretty soon there is going to be a specific term for the excitement around his productions. Something like "Juddlust." Bank on it.
Though it's got some gross-out gags, mostly it's the cast that's funny. Hill makes so many dick jokes that in order for a movie to have more dick jokes it would pretty much have to be a 90-minute dick joke. Cera's quiet delivery seems to catch every line off guard. Rogen and Hader's cops are so dimwittedly negligent they get into levels of anarchy unseen since the Marx Bros.
Generally, party movies have a strong pro-party platform, citing things like the awesomeness of chugging something and then shouting "Woo!", how cool it is to jump into a pool fully clothed, and the correlation between drunkenness and nakedness, but "Superbad's" take on booze is a little trickier.
Alcohol makes all the movie's adults act like stupendous jackasses (true), but to the kids it's the coolest thing in the world (also true). It makes everyone do stupid things they regret by daylight, but it also helps bring them closer together. Hill seems to think it's the source of all fun in the world; he's not wrong, exactly, it's just that he hasn't experienced enough to know the whole story.
With that insight and some brutal satire of school, authority, and adulthood, it's almost jarring whenever "Superbad" cuts back to the cops' and Mintz-Plasse's descent into crazyland. Those scenes are hilarious, but at times it's almost like they're part of a different movie that's tremendously funny and a whole lot further removed from reality.
Is that a bad thing? Kind of. Because at heart, "Superbad's" about the friendship of a couple kids who are going to have to finish growing up without each other. That isn't clear until the very last shot, but that shot changes everything that's come before it, suggesting we can't understand the cost of becoming an adult until it's already passed us by.