Wondrous Nerd Love

Geeky teens try to get knocked up in the instantly immortal Superbad

The latest comic meteorite to hurtle forth from the galaxy of producer Judd Apatow, Superbad is about a couple of chronically unpopular best friends who, after four years stuck on the lowest rung of the high-school social ladder, find themselves invited to a legitimately cool party. Goodbye, Friday nights chugging Old Milwaukees in their parents' furnished basements; hello, getting shitfaced in the company of a few dozen of their not-particularly-close friends. More important, having completed their independent study in Internet porn, our heroes finally get the chance to put their virtual carnal knowledge to practical use. Provided, that is, they can actually get to the party.

Yes, Superbad is about one of those nights — when you finally have the chance to prove that you're not as big a dork as everyone thinks, only to be chased by the cops, hit by a car (twice), and nearly pulverized by the dude whose girlfriend's menstrual blood somehow ends up on your pants leg, as well as to drunkenly embarrass yourself in front of the one girl you have real feelings for and then wake up the next morning wondering if it was all a dream. You know, one of those nights. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself.

For starters: Superbad was written by Knocked Up star Seth Rogen and cowriter Evan Goldberg, who cooked up the first draft of the script when they were in high school — which helps explain why the movie feels so knowing in every one of its clumsily averted hormonal glances and frank discussions of things like the best way to camouflage an erection. Rogen and Goldberg even named the lead characters after themselves, though a few drafts later, they are equally recognizable as specimens bred in the Apatow gene pool — the sort of kids you knew in high school, or maybe were yourself, who seem a touch young for their age, who are more book-smart than street-smart, and who live in abject terror at the thought of going off to college with their virginity intact.

More geek than freak, chubby, motor-mouthed Seth (Jonah Hill) perpetually brings up the rear in gym class and gets spat on by the resident senior-class bully, while gangly, soft-spoken Evan (Michael Cera) — who can run like the wind but doesn't really get the point of things like sports — stands dutifully at his side, an introspective Sancho to his brash Quixote. True to form, they pine for girls who seem out of their respective leagues: Evan for nice-girl Becca (Martha MacIsaac), whose obvious flirtations he cluelessly rebuffs, Seth for the comely Jules (Emma Stone). Then the act of divine intervention pairs Seth and Jules in a home-economics project and results in the popular girl inviting the dork (and his dork friend) to her graduation party. But, as mentioned, getting to that hallowed place proves easier said than done. In fact, it turns into something like Lord of the Rings of adolescent nookie movies — a calamitous, hazard-filled journey toward the fiery gates of Mount Poon.

At 19 and 23 respectively, Cera and Hill have the fully developed comic timing of seasoned pros — Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in sneakers and cargo shorts. Yet Superbad is routinely stolen right out from under them by an 18-year-old newcomer, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who was plucked from MySpace obscurity to play the unapologetically dweeby third wheel, Fogell, and who embraces the part with such unbridled comic brio that the character — and his fake-ID alias, McLovin — is bound for movie-comedy immortality. Following a hilariously botched attempt by our intrepid trio to buy booze using said ID, Superbad effectively splits along two parallel tracks, as Seth and Evan navigate their own circuitous route to Jules' house, while Fogell/McLovin winds up getting an unexpected lift from two police officers (played by Rogen and Saturday Night Live's Bill Hader), who make the Keystone Kops look like paragons of law and order.

Directed by Greg Mottola (an alumnus, like Hill, of Apatow's short-lived TV series Undeclared), Superbad is duly ribald and often achingly funny, brewed from the now-familiar Apatow house blend of go-for-broke slapstick and instantly quotable, potty-mouthed dialogue. ("I'm so jealous you got to suck on those tits when you were a baby," a wistful Seth tells Evan after an encounter with his friend's amply bosomed mother.) But what sets Superbad far apart from the American Pie series — indeed, what earns it a place alongside American Graffiti, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and Dazed and Confused in that elite strata of high-school comedies destined to stand the test of time — is its sweet, soulful vulnerability, particularly as it becomes clear that the only thing Seth and Evan feel more anxious about than losing their virginity is the thought of losing each other in the fall when they head off to separate colleges. That naughty-but-nice approach might seem something of an Apatow cliché by now if the characters themselves didn't ring so true. Make no mistake: Superbad is a movie about getting wasted and getting laid, but it is above all an ode to the end of teenaged innocence in all its wonderful, horrible splendor.

 
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