Plenty of so-called “bromance” movies have been released over the years, with their heyday arguably being in the early to mid-2000s. These stories typically focus on a couple of regular dudes who are clearly meant to be the best of friends. However, because they’re men and can’t acknowledge their own feelings, it takes a good 90 minutes for them to finally figure that out. When they do, there’s usually an uncomfortable embrace and non-committal declaration of love before one or both of them sheepishly says something rude and it’s back to business as usual. Superbad, one of the funniest and most surprising wide comedy releases of the modern era, was marketed as similar in (gross-out) tone to the likes of Old School and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, while also being firmly in the bromance mold. Happily, the 15-year-old film is anything but.
Superbad is actually a tender and sensitive dissection of male friendship. There’s no casual misogyny or self-conscious macho posturing, and the cast looks like regular high school students, marking the film out from the likes of American Pie (1999) and its gorgeous twentysomethings. The opening sequence — a simple discussion of porn preferences — immediately establishes the relationship between leads Evan (Michael Cera) and Seth (Jonah Hill) as the former character’s mom asks whether they’re going to miss each other the following year at college. When Evan replies nervously, the moment hints that there’s something unsaid between him and Seth. If this were I Love You, Man, for instance, the film would spend the whole runtime dancing around the conflict, but Superbad smartly sows seeds of discontent as the male protagonists continue playing off each other the same way they always have.
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Judd Apatow produced Superbad, but it’s nothing like his other releases, which tend to require a tougher edit at the best of times. There’s a ton of heart to the 2007 film, likely because it was scripted by real-life BFFs Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who came up with the idea when they were teenagers themselves and obviously share their names with the leads. Maybe it’s unsurprising, then, that so much care went into bringing this story to life and making it sing. Evan and Seth believably speak like teenage boys, with plenty of swearing and overt crudeness, rather than awkwardly spouting wordy dialogue that was clearly penned by a group of adults in a boardroom somewhere. Likewise, despite the fact that Superbad begins as a quest for sex, much like the vastly inferior American Pie, the only relationship that really matters is the friendship between the sweet and similarly clueless seniors at its heart.
Superbad continuously hints that there’s something nasty brewing between Evan and Seth — a pointed reference here, some rolled eyes there — with veiled and even overt nods to the fact they got into different colleges, which crucially wasn’t the plan. Although everybody else is eager for them to acknowledge it’s going to be tough, the boys refuse to face up to the reality of the situation until it all boils over into a massive, public argument on the street. Their fight is messily, emotionally honest and beautifully played by both actors, both of whom were at the beginning of their careers at the time (Cera was known predominantly for Arrested Development while Hill had just a handful of bit parts to his name). The actors imbue Evan and Seth, respectively, with a comfortably gawky, lived-in quality whether they’re weaseling out of standing up to a mullet-sporting bully or refusing to participate in P.E. class.
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The sharply written call-and-response dialogue between the two boys is hugely entertaining and frequently laugh out loud funny, but it also provides an incisive insight into how, and why, they’ve stuck together for so long. Evan and Seth understand each other on a level nobody else can penetrate, not even poor Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who tries his damnedest even despite Seth’s near constant put-downs (one of Superbad’s sweetest moments sees Seth finally acknowledge how well Fogell has done by holding on to the alcohol they so desperately need for their first cool kids party). Evan and Seth eventually confess their true feelings for each other, while drunk and cuddled up together next to half-eaten pizza bagels on the floor, but in the morning, Seth quips “Your mom’s got huge tits!” to dissipate the tension. The warm feeling of closeness remains, however, the message being that these two will always have each other even if life moves on and they’re not physically in the same place. Further, neither must give the other up to impress their potential girlfriends — theirs is a journey of self-belief above all else.
Superbad is the kind of movie that gets funnier with each revisit because there are so many insanely quotable throwaway lines. Consider the fact that the infamous dick-drawing moment is so quickly followed up with, “So I gotta sit here and eat dessert alone like I’m fucking Steven Glansberg?” Hell, the McLovin bit isn’t even the best joke, but it took on a life of its own in pop culture, similar to “Vote for Pedro” from Napoleon Dynamite, except in this case the bit is actually funny. Still, Superbad has stood the test of time, and will continue to do so, because there are so few movies that tackle male friendships in such a brutally honest manner, with care and attention, and without falling back on sarcasm once all is said and done. These two boys just love each other, and they realize there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Naturally, it helps that Evan and Seth are so incredibly clueless, with the latter memorably quipping “We could be that mistake!” in relation to convincing unwitting young ladies to sleep with them.
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The high school environment of Superbad is so clearly and finely drawn too (even though the main action isn’t set there), with a whole cast of instantly recognizable characters, including a winning, pre-fame Emma Stone as Seth’s love interest. The sun-dappled cinematography by Russ T. Alsobrook (who also shot Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Blockers, which share a similarly salty-yet-sweet tone with Superbad) lovingly captures their quiet California suburb as it transitions from day into night while things go from bad to worse. Notably, the misunderstandings pile up in a satisfying way as well. It all feels like a normal night in this town, and the boys even manage to pull their scheme off in the end (though only Fogell technically gets laid, of course). Moreover, getting rid of Seth’s car early on is a stroke of genius because it makes everything so much harder for the protagonists. Superbad is low stakes, as well it should be, since even the smallest setbacks feel potentially life-ending as a teen.
Superbad’s opening credits — goofy, scored by The Bar-Kays’ “Too Hot to Stop,” which is an in-joke in itself, and featuring the leads dancing in silhouette — implies that this is definitely not a cool movie about cool people. And yet, it doesn’t glorify being a hopeless incel either. The female characters aren’t objectified, even when the camera cleverly switches to the boys’ perspectives as they leer at them. The joke is firmly on the guys, especially when it comes to the perfectly awkward sex scenes, which have no gloss or Hollywood sheen to them whatsoever and are very deliberately not sexy. Thus, Superbad is an at times achingly realistic portrayal of a day in the life of two painfully normal high schoolers. It’s a winning formula because Cera and Hill are so terrific in their respective roles, even holding their own opposite the likes of comedy heavyweights like Bill Hader, Seth Rogen and Joe Lo Truglio.
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Sure, references to CSI and MySpace, alongside the rampant use of flip-phones, age Superbad ever so slightly, but it continues to be just as watchable 15 years later because the moral of the story still rings true. And given how badly things have escalated in the years since, pertaining to the so-called “manosphere” in particular, we need a movie like this, which celebrates male friendship on a deeper level without feeling the need to undercut it with misogyny or self-reflexive, macho humor. In fact, it’s a miracle that Superbad even exists in this form when considering the fragile nature of the male ego.
Joey Keogh (@JoeyLDG) is a writer from Dublin, Ireland with an unhealthy appetite for horror movies and Judge Judy. In stark contrast with every other Irish person ever, she’s straight edge. Hello to Jason Isaacs.