Bill Hader and Seth Rogen in Superbad (dir. Greg Mottola, 2007).
Whereas the American Pie films are gleefully cynical about the condition of contemporary oversexualization they both satirize and promote, Apatow-based productions like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Superbad offer as their signature a trademark "sweetness": a sweetness that is constantly poised against an unremitting raunchiness in relation to which it serves as both antidote and justification. This sweetness was the most attractive feature of Apatow's celebrated Freaks and Geeks TV series, and it maintained its charm in Virgin. By Knocked Up, it was beginning to wear thin, partly because it had reached the full realization of its own formula: one part sentimentality to one part prurience. The same formulaic trap threatens Greg Mottola's Superbad, though there is enough collective wit to ameliorate the problem most of the time. The basis of most of the film's humor is the implied thesis that genital sexuality has achieved such a point of cultural saturation, through internet pornography and other media, that it effectively becomes its own deconstructive counterforce, rendering itself absurd, and as such its corrosive aspects can be easily dispatched with a little old-fashioned ethical autonomy. When it is not approached as reductively as I've just framed it, this thesis results in some inspired bits of lunacy, like the Seth (Jonah Hill) character's childhood obsession with drawing anthropomorphic dicks (is there any other kind?). At other times, however, we're left with the trite triumphalism of exemplary male chivalry.
The other troublesome theme in the movie is the role of a corrupt establishment (in the form of the burn-out police officers played by Bill Hader and screenwriter Seth Rogen) as permission-giving granter of mature (again, masculine) potency. As much as their phallocentric excess is signaled parodically ("the long dick of the law," etc.), it ultimately legitimizes itself as a benevolently paternal organ (so to speak) of social initiation for young "McLovin" (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), whose arrival at manhood does not coincide with the loss of his virginity, which comes as an anticlimax (forgive me, I can't stop myself), but with the firing of a police revolver at the moment of authority's apotheotic self-immolation. The messages this sends out are densely interwoven, but are nevertheless, I suspect, quite uncomplicatedly self-contradictory at base.
Labels: Greg Mottola