If Superbad screenwriters Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have followed Fiction Writing 101’s golden rule to “Write What You Know”—a likely scenario, given that their protagonists’ names are Seth and Evan—then what they clearly know most about is cocks. It’s safe to say that no film in the history of cinema has displayed as much interest in male genitalia as this latest project from The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up mastermind Judd Apatow (here serving as producer). To say it’s a mind-boggling infatuation would almost be putting it lightly, so thoroughly does it have boners on the brain. The story of two high-school seniors’ attempts to procure booze for a graduation party and, as a reward for their efforts, get laid, Superbad is nothing shy of a slightly overlong, R&B-grooving portrait of two phalluses primed to explode. The unadulterated fascination with, and obsession over, penises displayed throughout is extreme to the point that one would be hard pressed to fully and properly convey it. In fact, were I to even try to match the film’s level of cock-loving with this review, these initial references to male reproductive organs would be just the tip of the iceberg.
Rogen and Goldberg wrote their script while teenagers and it shows, as Superbad—significantly more than the Rogen-headlined Knocked Up—exhibits a precise understanding of young male anxieties, desires, and camaraderie, but absolutely no clue about the fairer sex. In essence a love story between Jonah Hill’s loud, über-horny Seth and Michael Cera’s quiet, awkward Evan, director Greg Mottola’s film seeks to mirror the now-patented Apatow formula: severe raunch complemented by aw-shucks sweetness. The former takes dominant precedence over the latter, though its casual, un-preachy depiction of all-consuming adolescent yearning for social/romantic/sexual acceptance nonetheless brings a measure of genuine sensitivity to the unending ejaculation of profanity. Seth’s deep, reciprocated feelings for best friend Evan are complicated by resentment over the fact that they won’t be going off to college together (thanks to Seth not getting into Dartmouth), a bitterness that’s repeatedly stroked for laughs but simultaneously taken seriously—or, at least, as seriously as such a lewd comedy can take any subject. The brash, outgoing Hill and weird, discomfited Cera are a perfectly mismatched, consistently hilarious odd couple, yet it’s their convincing affection for each other and shared desire for inclusion that helps prop up the countless nasty gags.
The desire to fit in isn’t only confined to under-21 outcasts, as a secondary plot follows Seth and Evan’s dorky third wheel Fogell (outstanding newcomer Christopher Mintz-Plasse, reinvigorating the archetypal nerd) as his effort to buy liquor leads to misadventures with a pair of stunted-adolescent cops (Rogen and SNL‘s Bill Hader). Fogell may want to appear older via his fake Hawaii ID—which, in the so-brilliant-it-never-quite-gets-old centerpiece joke, lists the kid’s name as simply “McLovin”—but the film’s ethos is truly encapsulated by the officers, who are preoccupied with Star Wars, drinking beer, and demonstrating through reckless behavior that cops can be cool too. As a result, the sappy finale, just like prior Apatow productions, feels somewhat phony. Having proven its conception of women as either whores who period-bleed on men’s legs or as nice girlfriend-types—and always as mysterious aliens—Superbad then casts Seth and Evan’s duel domestication as a triumph (albeit one tinged with separation-sadness), a turn of events that disingenuously betrays its guy’s-hanging-with-guys energy. Which is to say: growing up and acquiring a worldview outside one’s own pants may be vital for the immature duo, but I don’t want to hear it from a movie that concludes with a notebook drawing of a cock dressed like Mr. T.