Superbad opens with the 1970s Columbia Pictures logo, features a 1970s soundtrack and, for much of the film, features its main character, played by Jonah Hill, wearing something seventies-esque. Those elements go far in creating a flavor for Superbad, as does the Southern California landscape. I’m not sure how important the flavor is to Superbad‘s success, since it’s still a funny movie. The script’s lulls rarely go on for a full minute, a good example being when Hill interrupts a soccer game to tell Michael Cera their plans for the evening (and setting the present action limits for the film) and Hill calls a bothersome soccer player (Cera’s in the middle of a game) a bed-wetter, recalling a bladder incident from eight years earlier. Then they don’t let the joke go. The player responds, Hill responds. Rogen and Goldberg’s script is the perfect comedy on the scene level. They know how to make it work and they know how to get the most from every scene. There’s not a single scene with an incomplete feeling to it (not a comedic scene, anyway).
The film’s getting a lot of online attention because of Michael Cera, who rabid fanboys seem to like almost as much as they like that sixteen year-old girl in the Harry Potter movies. Cera’s excellent in the film, except it’s not really an acting job. He’s playing his existing persona in a sex comedy for the first time. His performance is perfect; it doesn’t appear to have been much work. I wouldn’t even be commenting on it (Cera’s scenes are hilarious, especially the one where he has to sing for a bunch of violent adults at a party), if it weren’t for Hill’s performance. Hill gives a singular performance in this film–most of the raunchy lines are his, but he still manages to be the deepest character in the film. Cera’s depth possibilities get hurt by the handling of his big scene, when it’s more about the audience getting it than Cera getting it. But Hill… every scene with the guy, he’s amazing. And he’s amazing in ways suggesting his next performance will be as good (hopefully it won’t be in a Roland Emmerich movie as the comic relief).
Greg Mottola’s direction is as anti-hip as Hill and Cera’s clothing. He shot Superbad with the new Panavision Genesis digital camera and it’s hard to believe. Mottola’s job is pretty simple, to record the funny action going on, and he does it well. But there are a few times I remember really appreciating him.
Now for the problem. It’s really sentimental and really simple. While Cera and Hill have their adventures, another kid has adventures with a couple cops who act like Hill and Cera will if they never grow up. It’s a boy-to-man transition movie and it gets hammered in with a jackhammer. Instead of being content with its position as the funniest movie I can remember seeing, Superbad has to go and turn in a loony coda, taking all kinds of shortcuts with character development, just so it can have its sentimental, significant ending. Like most one night present action films, Superbad sets itself up for needing some real resolution and–since it’s already running 110–it hurries it through in three minutes, sucking a lot of the interesting possibilities from what it previously established. It’s a cheap ending masquerading as a good ending.
But even if the last four minutes of screen action are, basically, laugh-free, the preceding 114 are full of them. It’s a mixed bag and should not have been one.
Directed by Greg Mottola; written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg; director of photography, Russ Alsobrook; edited by William Kerr; music by Lyle Workman; production designer, Chris Spellman; produced by Judd Apatow and Shauna Robertson; released by Columbia Pictures.
Starring Jonah Hill (Seth), Michael Cera (Evan), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Fogell), Seth Rogen (Officer Michaels), Bill Hader (Officer Slater), Kevin Corrigan (Mark), Martha MacIsaac (Becca), Emma Stone (Jules) and Joe Lo Truglio (Francis the Driver).