You may remember a few weeks ago I saw, and was pleasantly surprised by, Knocked Up, a remarkably grown-up, insightful comedy that still retained an immature level of silliness, which made it a barrel of different sized laughs. Its trailer and premise suggested gross-out naffness, but in reality it served up a very different slice of comedy pie. So when another film pops up from the same makers, with another trailer and premise that suggested gross-out naffness (teenage lads wanting to ‘do’ girls) I hoped that a similar surprise would occur.
It seems that surprises, like lightening, rarely strike in the same place twice.
If films portray reality correctly, then I’ve learnt over the last couple of weeks that men are perverted, sex-obsessed freaks who talk and think only about how to get women into bed, and who like to wear dead badgers on their heads (alright, maybe Hallam was alone on that one.) To be fair, none of this is a surprise. But as the first ten minutes of Superbad rolled by with a never-ending stream of crude conversations about porn and the like, I thought “crikey, is this really what lads talk about all day? Isn’t it boring. And not very funny.”
Thankfully the film warms up, as Seth (Jonah Hill - also in Knocked Up, and the spitting image of deceased Chris Penn. Seriously - put him in a blue tracksuit and he IS Nice Guy Eddie from Reservoir Dogs), Evan (Michael Cera, George Michael from the spectacularly great Arrested Development), and Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) battle to get booze (ha ha to the Americans - I could buy booze when I was 18! In your faces!) so they can go to a party and get with the girls of their dreams. It’s only when a series of crazy events introduces two dysfunctional cops (Bill Hader and Seth Rogen, the writer and star of Knocked Up) that the fun for us adults begins. And by mixing ‘fun’ with ‘adult’ I don’t mean the sort of thing Seth would enjoy. I mean things that people over the age of 15 would find funny.
It’s a shame, really, because the playful banter between the leads actually feels real. I could very well imagine boys of that age having those conversations, and realistic-ish dialogue was one of the aspects that warmed me to Knocked Up. The three leads are strong, competent comedy actors, even if Michael Cera plays the same character from Arrested Development (he plays it very well though, and the scene where he is forced to sing is fabulous.) There’s also some nice brotherly moments in there, where the strong friendship between the leads is explored (especially the sleep-over, probably the best scene of the film).
On a side note, Superbad and Knocked Up have been accused of having misogynistic tendencies by featuring only beautiful women but still having reasonably ugly men, as if that’s never happened in any film or television programme ever before. Seriously, if you want to tackle the still ever-present issue of female image in the media, don’t go after a teen movie and expect it to be the root cause. I could write a thesis on the subject, but I won’t. Someone’s probably already done so, and it’d only make me angry about the subject, and make anyone reading this stop (because men don’t give a crap about it, really, and most women already know.)
Anyway, Superbad had funny moments, a strong cast and a streak of realism in its dialogue, but an unoriginal concept, long stretches of no-laughter time, and an almost cringe-inducing insistence on forcing in every sexual reference possible. The younger, stupid brother to Knocked Up’s mature, wry big sister, Superbad will probably delight males between 13 and 16, but to everyone else it’s asking a big commitment before you get to any of the good stuff. It just misses out on a CF0 (I wouldn’t really recommend it to many people, unless I happen on a group of ‘youths’) and bobs in with a CF-1. Not super-bad, but not super-good either.