Superbad (2007)

Superbad

I want to start out by saying that my adolescence was nothing like this. I had no trouble talking to women (I used to work as a walker), buying alcohol was never problematic (I had an older brother), and I always conducted open and trusted friendships.

I am exagerrating of course. Most adolescence is indeed spent on trying on costumes and picking the best one to negotiate emotional circumstances. Any clever teen movie screenwriter knows this (and many shamelessly exploit it).

But cinema is big business and its core audience are indeed teenagers. So when a teen movie comes out, it is always a gamble. That’s because there is already an established vocabulary to borrow from. But you can’t only borrow, you have to circumnavigate. That’s because teens are quick to pick up on when they’re being fooled with. So there’s the challenge to innovate while still maintaining interest.

The writers here are clever. They essentially maintain the same teen formula but they riddle the narrative with distractions and make it seem like those distractions are the story. But no, this is not about the self-deprecating jew (what Woody gave us), although that’s what the main characters are. If you really look at it you’ll see that it exploits the tried and true elements. You have the excessive house party (as pioneered by Sixteen Candles). And you have the boy meets girls, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back, of romantic comedies.

But oooohh so clever what they’ve added to distract us! The story has dual protagonists. So as they go through the party/love clichés, we are distracted by their disconnect. Suddenly the center of the story is relocated in the tension between their friendship. What this does, is that it establishes a distance between us and the cliché events, so we sort of just accept them as they are because we have something else to feed on.

To reinforce this initial distraction, they use another dual set of friends: the cops. What is the most common movie genre that exploits the general theme of friendship? The cop buddy movie of course. By overlaying this template over the already established principal thread, the enthusiasm over a hopeful resolve between our main protagonists is heightened.

You’d think they’d stop there. That it was already clever enough. But no.

There is usually only one big party in a movie like this. Here there are two. The first one is a similar teen party like you’d find in other movies of this type, except these teens are older and our protagonists find themselves there to “steal their booze” for their own party.

Do you see how the genre is momentarily turned inside out? How the mechanics are revealed for a slight second? Suddenly, in this specific movie, getting alcohol for a party is a problem. But although you can tell it was simply a clever writer trick used mostly for the effect (it is handled a little sloppy because when they get to their party there is already alcohol there), it still works.

Now on to the comedy. Here, it’s mostly verbal. It is not puns like the Marx Bros of course. It is more modern. It’s in the stand up comedian tradition, Lenny Bruce. It is about saying outrageous things and getting away with it. It works. There is also some situational bits, mostly embarassment, which work well too. There is one scene in a super market with alternate realities which will probably be copied in future films of this kind. Yes, it’s good.

But surprisingly, the element that impressed me the most apart from the writing was the actual filmmaking. It is not common to have a camera that understands the comedy. A camera that knows how to place itself in the perfect spot to convey the comedy. It is nothing new of course. It’s just sheer competence.

And my theory on part of why it’s so well done: one of the writers is in it.

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Categories: Notes

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