Monday, August 20, 2007

I wanted to like Superbad. I really did.

For a plethora of reasons, the most important being that Michael Cera is God's gift to the world (and to Arrested Development). But I walked out feeling more pissed off than light-hearted, the feel-good intentions of the "romantic comedy" not quite sitting well in my stomach (though I consumed like 50,000 Werther's during the course of the flick, so it's hard to place blame.) There were some good subplots-- the cops played by Seth Rogan and Bill Hader were hilarious as badly behaved officers who'd rather blow up their squad car than answer a call. But the gist of the movie, two adolescent nerds trying to get ass, just fed into the same tired formula that David Denby so articulately outlined here, which can be summarized along these lines: Super funny boys love each other intensely but their penises desire ladies. Boys must learn to part from each other in order to satisfy penises. This is a sad lesson as hanging out with girls is not much fun, but will lead to sex. Hence the ultimate compromise: give up fun for sex.

The last scene is so literally emblematic of this moral, as Seth and Evan run into the two girls they desire shopping together at the mall the morning after a party at which both Seth and Evan blew their chances of getting laid by either of them. There are awkward apologies, then the girls of course suggest pairing off as M-F twosomes, Evan going with his love interest, and Seth with his. As Evan and his new pseudo-girlfriend descend down the mall escalator, Evan and Seth exchange furtive glances of longing as they're slowly pulled apart from each other. It's definitely funny-- two awkward teenage boys playing out Elsa and Rick at the end of Casablanca, wrenched apart by necessity. But if the true love affair of the movie is between Evan and Seth, then what's with the girls on their arms? Sex, obviously. It's the only desire strong enough to pull the boys in different directions, Seth at one point saying he'd "give his right ball" for it.

It's easy to see why the grand romance of this comedy is between the two straight males: they're funny, crude, dynamic characters. The audience laughs with them and relates to them, mostly because there are no other characters to relate to. The female characters are confined to be either the stationary body that Evan simulates fucking during Home-Ec class, or the temptress who gets trashed and whispers "I want to blow you" seductively in Seth's ear. There is nothing to their characters except for offering a sexual possibility to the boys, or at least a vehicle through which to play out the boys' sexual frustrations. In this world where the females have hot bodies, but are otherwise incapable of cracking a joke, having feelings, or some semblance of intelligent thought, who wouldn't fall in love with their hilarious male best friend?

Which of course, in the end, makes me wonder why I went to the movie with a group of girlfriends, and why the majority of the audience at my showing was not nerdy white boys, but groups of young girls, couples, and African American boys. Perhaps this is a gross generalization, but it strikes me as sad that such a diverse audience is forced to laugh and empathize over and over and over with the trials and hardships of angsty white boys. In fact, I probably could have enjoyed the movie despite the fact that the females were relegated to be barely-speaking penis receptors if Hollywood also churned out some movies in which females were dynamic and funny for once. But no one does, or if the script is written, no one buys. Instead Judd Apatow, a man so terrified of women he admitted in a recent Rolling Stone interview that sometimes he's afraid that his beautiful wife, actress Leslie Mann, is "going to crawl out a window" and leave him, has become the gold standard of Hollywood comedy, and worse, the only standard.


liz said...

Word! I think this blog post may be the precise thing I need in order to not have to see Superbad for myself. I mean, I'm sure it's funny, and all, and Michael Cera is by far the cutest, but the idea of seeing the thing in theaters sort of fills me with some kind of unspeakable dread. Because I am officially a humorless feminist. Also I think my favorite part of this whole thing was your gloss of Denby's argument. Heart!

Axel Foley said...

I like penis receptors.

Perfect Ratio said...

Oh perfect! I have a ton of mismatched socks I was just going to throw away.

Axel Foley said...

Cool, I'll be over at 8.

Simone said...

dear lauren,
this is mary, not simone. anyway, this is an excellent post that perfectly encapsulates my thoughts on all this type of shit. now let's force gerard to read it! -mary

Anonymous said...

This review reflects a poor understanding of the film.

Your review hinges upon your belief that Seth and Evan view women as sex objects, and sex objects only. This is incredibly false. These are boys who have not yet learned how to relate to the opposite gender or how to be in functional relationships. Therefore, typical of the majority of adolescent boys, their overblown dialogue with one another is primarily sexual, mostly because this is how boys at that age conceptualize their views of women to one another. I think that the fact that they are so funny with each other comes more from the fact that at this stage they relate to one another better than they relate to women, rather than your assertion that Apatow finds women "unfunny."

Also, you completely ignore the fact that both characters experience growth over the course of the film. You state that "Seth and Evan blew their chances of getting laid by either of them" - and yet, Evan DID have the chance to have sex with Becca, and he rejected it. Neither of them got what they thought they wanted - sex - and yet, they're happy at the end of the movie - and the implication is that they are going to explore more meaningful relationships with Jules and Becca. That Seth and Evan are having "the true love affair" is the shtick of the movie - and it's funny - but in the end, they really just need to grow up, and I think the film makes that clear.

Also, I take issue with the portrait of Becca as a "temptress." Becca is CLEARLY not a temptress. She's drunk and the way she acts at the party is extremely out of character for her. All her other interactions with Evan are a little shy and awkward. If anything, the movie condemns teen drinking and the sexual situations it leads to - and commends Evan for not taking advantage of her in her inebriated state.

It's true that the female characters are not as dynamic or funny as the male characters, mostly because the male characters are the MAIN characters - the females get very little screen time in which to BE funny. But I don't hate the movie because it speaks from a male perspective. Apatow's good at what he does. He knows guys. And he's a million times more nuanced than most people who make teen movies today.