The struggle is real when you’re a teenager. Few movies have reminded us of that more effectively and hilariously than Superbad. One of the greatest high school comedies of all time turns 10 years old this month. (The official release date was Aug. 17, 2007.)
How much things have changed in a decade? The characters in Superbad use flip phones and a video tape makes a brief appearance.
— khristine (@ileakpie) June 19, 2017
Among all the movies with Judd Apatow’s name attached to it, he should be most proud of Superbad. We had seen raunchy, preposterous and awkward in teen films before. From Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) to the first three movies of the American Pie franchise (1999-2003) to Mean Girls (2004). Movies about horny high schoolers desperate to lose their virginity are nothing new. Most are terrible. And some, while initially funny, just don’t age well.
Superbad looks like it will stand the test of time because the characters feel authentic, their chemistry seems real and the conversations sound like teen males talking to each other. Like most good films, you remember where you were when you first saw it because there has never been anything else quite like it.
The plot is simple. High school seniors Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) are on a mission to buy alcohol for a party with the hopes of hooking up before they graduate. They are under the impression that booze will greatly enhance their chances. Seth sums up the goal thusly: “You know when you hear girls say ‘Ah man, I was so shit-faced last night, I shouldn’t have fucked that guy?’ We could be that mistake.”
The pursuit of alcohol is the McGuffin – a plot device merely to advance the narrative. If Superbad was just about liquor and sex, it would still be funny, but not as memorable. Yes, there is plenty of sex talk and the humor is unapologetically crass. But it also has heart and taps into things we can all relate to on a fundamental level: the senior year of high school and the insecurities it prompts.
There is the stress of dealing with your own emerging sexuality right before going off to college. And the stress of how your friendships will change once you begin moving in different directions. One of the main reasons that this movie works is that Seth Rogen and his friend Evan Goldberg reportedly started working on this script as adolescents. The characters in the movie — Seth and Evan — are based on their own life experiences.
Seth and Evan are lifelong best friends who are about to be separated because they’re going to different colleges. That – and a secret – is creating tension between the two. Conflict is a necessary ingredient for successful film.
If Rogen and Goldberg tried to write this movie fresh as adults, it wouldn’t seem as believable. That’s one of the main problems with many teen movies. They’re written from an often cliché-filled perspective of what adults think high schoolers act like. In Superbad, Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) talk like teens who pretend to know it all while fumbling with the reality that they know very little about the opposite sex and how to handle adult situations.
Seth’s default mechanism is to tell inappropriate jokes because he doesn’t know how to simply ask out Jules (Emma Stone). Evan’s default mechanism is to exaggerate his life because he doesn’t want to come off as a dork who just got accepted into Dartmouth. That’s what teenagers do.
We didn’t know this at the time, but one of the reasons behind Superbad’s success was the quality of talent on screen. For most people, this film introduced them to two actors who would go on to become Hollywood superstars with clout: Jonah Hill and Emma Stone.
Hill, who was a lovable, weird doofus, is 33 years old now. He is a two-time Oscar nominee: Best Supporting Actor in Moneyball (2011) and Best Supporting Actor in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). Stone, 28, won an Oscar for Best Actress in La La Land (2016) and received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Birdman (2014).
Few great high school comedies boast future Oscar nominees/winners. You’ve got Rachel McAdams in Mean Girls. You could go way back to Robert Downey Jr. ‘s small role as a bully in Weird Science (1985). There’s Sean Penn and Jennifer Jason Leigh in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982).
Another actor who emerged from Superbad is Michael Cera. He enjoyed a breakout role in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010). Cera’s deer-in-the-headlights look and rational behavior is the perfect complement to Seth’s mania.
Can’t believe we’ve made it this far without talking about Fogell, a.k.a. McLovin.
Of all the fun, crazy stuff in the movie, Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s character became sort of a pop culture sensation. Heck, he hung out with NBA stars.
— Only In Boston (@OnlyInBOS) December 19, 2014
McLovin, whose bogus fake I.D. helps Seth and Evan get alcohol, is featured in some of the movie’s best moments. Plus —Spoiler Alert — he’s the only one of the three teens who actually has sex.
Seth, Evan and McLovin are the stars. The rest of characters fill in their roles as needed. The lone part of Superbad that isn’t remotely realistic are the cops, played by Rogen and Bill Hader, who exist mostly for additional comedy. But that’s part of the gag.
In retrospect, Superbad looked like a can’t-miss. At the time, however, it was hardly a sure thing.
Apatow proved he could make bankable comedies with The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005) and Knocked Up (2007). But this was a bit of a gamble. This was the first film written by Rogen. It was the first major film directed by Greg Mottola, who previously worked mostly in television. If the studio had high hopes for the movie, it would have been released earlier in the summer. Instead, it came out at a time when expectations were tempered.
But Superbad immediately struck a vibe with audiences. It was the No. 1 movie in America the week it was released. Made for $20 million, the movie grossed $121,463,226 domestically. It was the fourth-highest grossing R-rated film of 2007.
What is the legacy of Superbad? It breathed new life into R-rated comedies. It helped put Hill and Stone on the map. And, of course, the greatest end credits scene of all time.