Movies

Superbad As An American Screen Comedy

Thanks in large part to the vast diversity of American culture and its assimilation over the last few decades, high school students do not follow the same conventions their parents did thirty years ago. Back then one would rarely spot a jock dating a rebel or a brain dating a stoner. But, today anything is possible, even for an adorable, overweight class clown and a scrawny, awkward nerd. Seth and Evan of Superbad prove to underdogs everywhere that they can score the girl, as long as their willing to risk jail time in the process.

Superbad introduces the audience to the two protagonists in the very first scene. Seth and Evan are less than three weeks from high school graduation, a glorious summer, and then, finally, their freshman year of college. Their explicit discussion of which pornography sites they will subscribe to at college evokes roars of laughter within the first five minutes of the film. The viewers soon learn that Evan and Seth got into different colleges and that they will not be dorming together as they had always planned. Seth drives Evan to school, where they park in the teacher’s lot and proceed to a convenience store where they discuss their respective love interests whom the audience meet later.

Once outside of the store, a standard high school bully confronts them. This guy (for lack of a better word) has a long mullet and hideous glasses, yet he’s tall and broad and spits on Seth while telling him that he is not invited to his big graduation party. Seth does not stick up for himself and tries to blame Evan for not “having his back” in the situation so that he does not have to feel like a pushover. At school, spectators are introduced to the boys’ dream girls: Becca and Jules. They learn that Jules’ parents are away and that she will be having a big party that night. Luckily, a third pitiful friend named Fogell comes into class and informs them that he is getting a fake ID on lunch break. Seth promises Jules he will supply her party with alcohol, and so the drama (and laughter) begins.

Superbad has roots in many of the various historical periods of American screen comedy. Screwball and Slapstick comedies lead up to the Screwball Slapstick, which is definitely represented in the scene during Home Economics class. Seth and Jules are paired up to make tiramisu, as is Evan and another male classmate. Seth performs Screwball Slapstick comedy when Jules has her back turned, mimicking sexual intercourse with a wire whisk and two eggs while thrusting at the poor girl while she is preoccupied and not looking. Evan and his partner perform a more classic Slapstick routine; they use flour to give themselves whiskers and then lick at their hands like cats. They also use physical comedy when helping each other out with their aprons and throughout the rest of the scene. The pantomiming between Evan and his partner is completely nonsexual, while the physical comedy between Seth and Jules is definitely sexually charged.

Superbad can also be classified with the Animal Comedies, which have dominated teen culture for the last two and a half decades. Belton says that “an interest in adolescent sexuality, graphical grossness, and a comic celebration of vulgarity in general” is what characterizes these films (p 197). Superbad most assuredly has a keen interest in teenage sexuality. After all, Seth and Evan are virgins with less than 3 weeks until graduation and less than 3 months to college. Seth puts it quite eloquently when he says, “We don’t want girls to think we suck dick at fucking pussy.” In fact they are so hard up that, only a few scenes later, Seth proclaims, “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 film also demonstrates its fair share of graphical grossness, with Becca puking all over the bed in which she and Evan were about to have sex. Finally, the entire movie is basically a comedic celebration of vulgarity. Seth tells Evan he is jealous that he got to suck on his mom’s breasts when he was an infant for crying out loud!

Director Greg Mottola, along with writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, use Superbad as a way to address many underlying issues that have been facing adolescents for the past decade. As explained by Belton, American screen comedy is often an expression of racy topics that our culture tries to suppress. For example, the creators of Superbad decided to make the police officers out to be fools. This is their way of saying that they feel our justice system is corrupt (as many young people do) without coming out and saying it. Another example is the way Evan and Seth are too afraid of sounding homosexual to tell each other that they will miss one another while away at college. It takes a large amount of alcohol for them to finally open up to one another. The makers of the film use this scene to show how young men are expected to be unemotional and masculine 100% of the time if they do not want their sexuality to be questioned.

Racism is another current issue the creators of Superbad touch on in their film. They poke fun at the fact that some people still make such a big deal over race, in a culture that has come so far since segregation and now includes so much diversity through a scene at the liquor store. The clerk who was on duty when Fogell is punched and the register robbed is African American. She is well educated and we learn that she is a graduate student, yet the police officers still give her a hard time. This is also partly due to the fact that they are trying to portray cops as idiots, but they do not even know what to refer to her ethnicity as. She finally tells them he was a 5’10” Caucasian; so, when they still act like they don’t know what she is talking about, she storms off. This scene could also be interpreted to be about the often-unfair treatment of women, even educated ones, in the modern era.

At the end of the day, Superbad is a perfect example of a modern American screen comedy. It can bring entire audiences to tears of laughter, while also addressing some serious issues about today’s adolescents. Safe and consensual sex is promoted in a time when rape and teen pregnancy rates are higher than ever. Seth and Evan are two comedic heroes that I feel will be remembered for a long time to come; thanks in large part to the comedic genius and first-hand experience the young creators of this movie possess.

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