Teen movies centered around graduation are always bittersweet affairs. Look beneath the flow of booze and morally flimsy sexcapades, and you’ll find an undercurrent of yearning, regret, and deep anxiety. There’s a strange proto-nostalgia, as pseudo-adults desperately try and cup the sand as it slinks down the hourglass. Few films have ever bottled that agony and ecstasy with the brilliant skill of Superbad. For nearly two hours of runtime, a trio of randy teenagers dedicate themselves to a last-ditch effort to get laid and be cool, and maybe pad their social résumés for college. The resulting movie is hilarious, awkward, pitiful, and–you guessed it–just a touch bittersweet.
It doesn’t hurt that Superbad emerged in 2007, which turned out to be twilight for raunchy teen flicks. This movie actually feels more like 1997, a time when social media and smartphones were still an ominous glint on the horizon. These characters could pound shots, toke weed, and grind on strangers without fear their R-rated shenanigans would soak deep into the electronic world with the permanence of tattoo ink. The only audience Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) would need to worry about were the ones who could bear live witness. Superbad has the distinction of being the last great high school movie before technology unfurled a wet blanket all over everything.
The film centers on Seth and Evan (named for screenwriters Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg), lifelong besties who are about to graduate from high school. On the social ladder, the boys occupy a middle ground: They aren’t goobery enough to be full-on nerds, but they’re also a million miles from the cool table. The duo’s causal buddy Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a true geek with a maddening lack of self-awareness, doesn’t exactly help their situation. As Superbad begins, Seth and Evan harbor major crushes: Evan has the hots for Becca (Martha MacIsaac), who sits behind him in class. Seth is smitten with Jules (Emma Stone), the school’s It Girl, who might actually be the rare trifecta of pretty, popular, and cool.
Things kick into high gear when Jules invites Seth to her graduation party. That means Evan can also go with Becca. The boys’ high ambition for one steamy night finally seems within reach. Unfortunately, there’s one small catch: Any respectable high school party needs liquor, and the ladies press our heroes into service to find some. Of course, these guys aren’t exactly smooth, so this quest puts them on the brink of disaster for most of the movie. The wackiest hijinks ensue when Fogell (working with the suave mononym “McLovin”) gets nabbed by two man-child police officers (Seth Rogen and Bill Hader), who proceed to whisk him through some truly bizarre adventures. Meanwhile, Seth and Evan crash a party of college students, and hatch a risky plot to make off with their booze.
The second half of Superbad flies off the rails, and cheerfully invites you to fly away with it. Part of the film’s undeniable humor stems from its shock value, so I won’t dare describe the best gags here. I’ll only comment that aside from a few cringey moments, most of this movie’s funny still holds up really well.
Much of that is due to a sharp script from Rogen and Goldberg, and great lead work from Hill and Cera, who lock right into the film’s dirty, freewheeling groove. Few actors can launch a fusillade of sarcasm with the perfect aim of Hill, and few co-stars could ever hope to respond with the deadpan naïveté of Cera. Rogen and Hader also supply strong performances, playing cops who transform not giving a shit into some kind of shambling art form. Meanwhile, Mintz-Plasse threatens to run off with the film, like it’s a detergent jug filled with cheap beer.
The truth is that Superbad represents the zenith of hormonal teen comedy. There’s really not a false note in it anywhere. This film may not have the poetic poignancy of Dazed and Confused, but it successfully captures that weird transition, from being a clueless child to being a clueless young adult. It’s absolutely hilarious, with just a teaspoon of melancholy. More than anything, Superbad reminds us of all the reasons these teen years are best left in the rearview mirror.
113 min. R. Peacock.