Superbad at 15!
There’s a particular era of American movie comedy that’s generally known as the “Apatow Era,” back when four or five comedies came out each year that had Judd Apatow’s name somewhere in the credits, comedies that combined off-the-charts raunch with values that exemplified heart. Sometimes he was the director, other times he was a producer or had some other role, but those comedies represented a very specific cinematic moment.
Judd Apatow did not write or direct Superbad; he is credited as a producer, with Greg Mottola directing and Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg the writers, in a movie that arrived just a couple of months after Apatow directed Rogen in his breakout role in Knocked Up. But the film certainly had the Apatow sensibility- and also happened to be the best of all of that era’s comedies, and one of the funniest teen movies ever.
Based, implicitly, on the teen years of Rogen and Goldberg themselves — the main characters are named Seth and Evan — Superbad was a One Crazy Night movie, a teen party movie, and much more. It starred Michael Cera and Jonah Hill as a couple of dorky teenagers who decide they want to lose their virginities on the last night of high school to their crushes of choice, played by future star Emma Stone and future non-star Martha MacIsaac.
They would appear to have no hope, but soon realize they can procure alcohol and use it, essentially, as currency.
Superbad is far from the first movie to have that sort of plot; it formed the basis for the entire American Pie series, less than a decade earlier. The difference is, that Superbad has just a bit more heart, it knows its characters are hopeless, clueless bozos who are likely doomed to fail, and the story is ultimately way more about the joys and complexities of young male friendship.
But of course, the key to the success of Superbad is that the comedy is firing on all cylinders, beginning to end. The dialogue is delightfully, hilariously profane, the situations even funnier, and the cast is stacked to the brim with major talents.
The film just had so many great ideas, starting with the entire character of McLovin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), the high school uber-nerd who somehow manages to succeed in getting laid while his friends fail. Then there’s Rogen and Bill Hader’s extended run as two of the funniest on-screen cops ever. I’m not sure where “two harmless idiots who drink on duty care more about bonding with teenagers than solving crimes” land in the “copaganda” debate, but the two are a delight.
Superbad‘s funniest scene, undoubtedly, is the one in which Cera’s Evan stumbles into a room of coked-out partiers, they demand he sing, and he nervously belts out The Guess Who’s “These Eyes” (a song that pops up in the cops’ car later in the movie.)
Superbad was funny when it first came out and has remained hilarious on each subsequent viewing. Characters in studio comedies these days are rarely allowed to be quite so profane.
In the years after Superbad, Rogen and Goldberg would continue to write together, create TV series, and do a lot more. Mottola followed up Superbad with another fantastic teen movie, Adventureland, and while his work since then (Paul, Clear History, and Keeping Up With the Joneses) has been middling, he also directed the upcoming Fletch reboot with Jon Hamm.
Judd Apatow has continued to make movies, including one of this year’s worst, The Bubble. But the “Apatow Movie” epoch was very specific to that time- and Superbad was the best it ever got.