The Theory of Chaos

Monday, January 07, 2008


: Greg Mottola
: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg
: Judd Apatow and Shauna Robertson
: Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Bill Hader, Seth Rogen, Martha MacIssac, Emma Stone, Aviva, Joe LoTruglio, Kevin Corrigan

(*The cut reviewed here is the “Unrated” version available on DVD. I gather the differences are superficial at best.)

understands that the two most primal impulses in the teenage boy are 1) have sex, and 2) don’t get in trouble. In playing to both those qualities it finds the formula for teen sex romp immortality, in that it keeps consummation and raunch omni-present as cruel but irresistible lures to its characters, yet is as good-hearted and inelegantly earnest as a homemade Valentine. It improves upon previous genre standard-bearer American Pie in that it doesn’t view its characters as types to be pegged in their respective storylines, but rather as unique, peculiar young adults figuring out who they are from within the din of their hormones.

From overcrowded parties to the timeless quest to obtain booze (Name that movie: “
I lost my I.D…in a flood.”), it is not doing anything new under the sun, but the cumulative result has a winsome freshness. Major credit is due to both the casting and the writing, producers Judd Apatow and Shauna Robertson have assembled a creative talent pool with an unusually-low level of Hollywood-artificial pollution. These people are gifted, very funny, and still genuine enough to put this very simple idea over.

The script, an autobiographical effort by high school pals Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Seth, still in his mid 20’s, was originally set to play himself), is, naturally, about Seth (Jonah) and Evan (Michael Cera), joined-at-the-hip friends facing graduation, and the trauma of different colleges. Everyone realizes how devastating this will be to them except themselves. This is an important principle, because movies can be about vulgar things, and still work, when at their heart they’re celebrating something positive, like the love between pals. Watch how the friendship gradually becomes more fundamental to the plot than the sex – this is not an accident of design. Producer Apatow, through this film and his own directorial efforts
Knocked Up and The Forty Year Old Virgin, is cornering the market on the virtues of bud-dom, and reinvigorating mainstream American film comedy in the process.

Seth, overweight and under-filtered in his speech, is direct in his sexual goals – he considers high school to be practice time for the legitimate carnal adventures of college. He doesn’t want to be under-trained, and has set his sights on Jules (Emma Stone), with whom he enjoys a good rapport but who he is convinced would never consider him without considerable liquid assistance. See how this reflects more on his own self-esteem than any judgment of her and you have a hint at how this movie wins you over.

Evan, meanwhile, is trying to reconcile his chivalrous leanings with his most ungentlemanly desire for his friend Becca (Martha MacIssac), who seems confused that he’s not picking up the signals she’s broadcasting on all available frequencies. All are set to converge on a party at Jules’ place, and it is the guys’ mission to provide the drinks.

This puts them in an alliance of necessity with their sometime friend Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who has just acquired a fake ID with the dubious pseudonym “McLovin”. Mintz-Plasse, plucked out of high school for his first professional acting role, steals this movie as thoroughly as it can be stolen. His still-breaking voice, his noodle physique, the way he mishandles street patois – McLovin is a dweeb right down to his DNA, and he never stops being one, and yet he somehow emerges in our eyes as cool. We want good things to happen for him because he never apologizes for being himself.

He spends a long tangent riding along with two of the least confidence-inspiring police officers ever seen on-screen (Rogen and Bill Hader), and their adventures in shoddy law enforcement are like a giddy and charmed playdate between three people who believe that being a grown-up is just a pointless conspiracy in pretending certain things aren’t actually fun. The inspired audacity of that plotline is a source of constant surprises.

This is a longer movie than most would have made it, it doesn’t mind letting riffs play out past their usual deadline, or hanging around somewhere to see if there’s more to be milked from it. Sometimes this leads to a gold strike, like in an extended examination of an odd hobby of Seth’s (watch it extended further into the end credits), whereas in other scenes you can feel the actors running out of new things to say. The production end is ragged as well, photographed in cheap digital which comes off even worse during the night half of the picture.

But a certain cheap messiness feels as necessary to Superbad as the unconventional faces of its cast. Michael Cera effortlessly embodies an intelligent young man who is perplexed to the point of terror by hazards of social interaction (see Juno for another charming variation he can put on this routine), while the girls that he and Hill pursue have a rare accessibility about them. They’re beautiful, but they have their original noses and normal-sized chests. They don’t look like they’ve got an army of hairdressers and fashion designers poised off camera for them.

This is a movie about people who don’t hide their imperfections, and that’s one of the aspects of sex that almost never gets talked about but can end up being one of the best things about it. Surpassing the fantasy for the unique pleasures of actually pairing your flaws with someone else’s and finding a match is part of the rite-of-passage Superbad celebrates very, very well.


Post a Comment

<< Home