Everyone has defining cinematic experiences. Upon seeing The Godfather during its initial release, audience perceptions on the possibilities of the crime saga shifted for the better, or, for a more recent example, The Avengers proved that a carefully constructed shared universe can work. In hindsight it is easier to identify those pivotal moments that helped shape your perceptions of cinema, and 2007’s Superbad was instrumental in shaping my present-day appreciation for comedy.
I believe it to be THE teen comedy of my generation…or at least of my particular age group of the time, being 16 upon its released. Some called it derivative, but few filmmakers today refrain from borrowing fitting ideas from other works which they feel can be given a fresh twist in their own works. Hell, Quentin Tarantino has openly made a career out of it! Plus, many of the films from which it borrowed inspiration were not released in my mid-teens, and in this sense Superbad’s timing could not have been any better.
The story, at least on paper, is a familiar one: three teens try to score some alcohol for a party in the hopes of gaining social recognition amongst their peers, and maybe even get the girls in the process. What sets it apart, however, is its updated approach to such a premise, with a relatable story on friendship, coming of age, and the fear of change, which is all underscored by a wonderfully crude sense of humour that still has me in hysterics every time I watch it. On top of all this, not all adults are assigned to typically antagonistic or passive roles. On a personal level, it elevated the realm of possibility for comedy in cinema, introducing me to a new age of humour I had not experienced before.
Yet, its nuanced brand of comedy is not all that Superbad introduced me to, as it features the talents of some of my favourite figures in comedy. I began to uncover the sharp and ever-quotable writing talents of Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen; I discovered the latter’s comedic timing, paired with Bill Hader’s underrated versatility; and the film offered my first glimpse at the hilarious abrasiveness of Jonah Hill alongside Michael Cera’s loveable geek persona (I had yet to see Arrested Development at this point, mind you). This is all without mentioning the feature film debut of future Oscar winner Emma Stone, or the immortalised caricature of Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s “McLovin.”
Superbad is absolutely brimming with talent, and for me it helped bridge the gap between the generally asinine, toothless comedies that were waiting for this sort revelation (with Anchorman being the notable exception here), and the flurry of comedies directed and produced by Judd Apatow, which in my mind helped define North-American commercial comedy moving forward.
Obviously I am not talking from a point of pure objective research here, or calling Superbad a watershed moment in the history of cinema, but rather noting its impact on my own perceptions of comedy at that time in my life. The only other film I had seen up to that point, where I had laughed just as hard, was Scary Movie 3, and while I still maintain my appreciation of the comedy to this day, it always felt like a rehashed trend that lacked both brain and heart. Whereas Superbad has both in spades, and left an impression that makes it my American Graffiti, my Animal House.
If you are a millennial (I never thought I would come around to using that term), and have never seen Superbad, fret not, for it is never too late to engage with what I consider the zeitgeist of teenage humour in the noughties. The humour and its themes may have been covered before, but never in such a humourously resonant manner befitting of 21st century youth.