"Superbad" is one of the most influential comedies of the 21st century — or, at the very least, one of the raunchiest. Screenwriters Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg based the film's wild situations on stories from their own childhood, and worked with director Greg Mottola to craft a new teen comedy classic worthy of the high school movie hall of fame.
Released by Judd Apatow's The Apatow Company, "Superbad" launched successful new stars who would go on to appear frequently in Apatow productions. Michael Cera's comedy credentials were already established thanks to his role as Jason Bateman's son George Michael on "Arrested Development," but "Superbad" was his first major film appearance. It was a breakout role for Jonah Hill as well. In the next decade, Hill expanded beyond comedy to earn two Academy Award nominations for dramatic roles and began a directorial career of his own.
Christopher Mintz-Plasse plays the fan-favorite character Fogell, who awkwardly takes on the personna "McLovin" thanks to a botched fake ID. As with many Apatow productions, "Superbad" has a stacked bench of supporting players, including frequent Apatow collaborators Bill Hader, Emma Stone, Martin Starr, Clark Duke, and Dave Franco.
"Superbad" is dirty and chaotic, but Cera and Hill have a legitimately heartfelt relationship. They care for each other, and fear what their lives will look like when they're separated in college. Even their arguments feel realistic. It's a great blend of both comedy and heart — if you loved "Superbad," these great comedies are also worth checking out.
There's a reason why Olivia Wilde's directorial debut "Booksmart" has been often labeled the "female Superbad," even if Wilde herself wishes it would be judged as an independent work. Their stories are nearly identical: "Booksmart" follows two lifelong friends, Molly Davidson (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy Antsler (Kaitlyn Dever), as they attempt to crash a series of parties ahead of their high school graduation.
While it's easy to see the influence of "Superbad," "Booksmart" sets itself apart with a refreshing change of perspective. Molly and Amy are bookworms who dedicated the past four years to meticulously studying and applying to colleges, sparing no time to party or get into trouble. They're shocked to realize that the wilder students in their graduating class have had no trouble getting into leading universities themselves, and feel cheated of the fun they denied themselves. So, they launch a last-minute effort to cram all of their craziest desires into a single hectic night before they leave high school behind.
Although both "Superbad" and "Booksmart" are crass, the characters' motivations are different. Evan and Seth are just trying to find a romantic fling, but Molly and Amy prize their intelligence, and have higher ambitions. Their friendship is earnest; even though Molly pushes Amy into situations that make her uncomfortable, they're respectful of each other's boundaries. They are rarely in actual danger, but there are serious emotional stakes, leading the girls to argue about how they've controlled each other's lives.
There's a reason Olivia Wilde's directorial debut "Booksmart" has been often labeled the "female Superbad," even if Wilde herself has expressed her desire for the film to be judged as an independent work. The stories are nearly identical. "Booksmart" follows two lifelong friends Molly Davidson (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy Antsler (Kaitlyn Dever) as they attempt to break into a series of parties ahead of their high school graduation.
While it's easy to see the influence of "Superbad," "Booksmart" is distinguishable with thanks to the refreshing change of perspective. Molly and Amy are bookworms that dedicated their past four years to meticulously studying and applying to colleges, with no time to enter the party scene or get into trouble. They're shocked to realize that the wilder students in their graduating class have had no trouble getting into leading universities, and they feel cheated of the fun they denied themselves. They launch a last minute effort to cram all of their craziest desires into a hectic night before they leave high school behind.
Although both films are crass, the characters' motivations are different. Evan and Seth are just trying to find a romantic fling, but Molly and Amy are highly intelligent and maintain their ambitions. Their friendship is earnest; even though Molly pushes Amy into situations she's uncomfortable in, they're respectful of each others' boundaries. They are rarely in actual danger, but there are more emotional stakes. The girls argue over how they've controlled each others' lives.
Everybody Wants Some!!
"Superbad" was praised for authentically depicting the struggles that modern teenagers go through, and few filmmakers capture the everyday hardships young people face quite like Richard Linklater. Linklater has contributed many classics to the coming-of-age genre, and his raucous college sports comedy "Everybody Wants Some!!" is a hidden gem that was unfortunately buried upon release. A spiritual sequel to Linklater's 1993 classic "Dazed and Confused," "Everybody Wants Some!!" follows the adventures of a group of college baseball players who live together in a frat house in the week before their classes start.
Freshman Jake Bradford (Blake Jenner) joins the team's exclusive ranks as he moves in, and finds that the team already has their quirky repertoire in place. The team works effectively on the field and during practice, but outside of official games they're constantly competing with one another. Between scoring with women at parties, playing drinking games, and showing off during tests of endurance, they make a contest out of everything. While this could have easily been a showcase for toxic masculinity, the character dynamics make "Everybody Wants Some!!" fun without being cruel. The non-traditional family unit has an unusual code of respect, and Jake earns his place among them.
"Superbad" features many extravagant parties, and the celebrations in "Everybody Wants Some!!" are equally weird. For example, Jake falls for the freshman theater student Beverly (Zoey Deutch), and reluctantly invites the team to join him at an "Alice in Wonderland"-themed party with the theater kids.
30 Minutes Or Less
"Superbad" effectively ramps up its chaos. If the more shocking moments had appeared too early in the film, the pacing would have been thrown off, and the later gags wouldn't have been as effective. The underrated 2011 film "30 Minutes or Less" takes a similarly careful approach to its frantic situations. The film also features many frequent Apatow collaborators, but is more of a screwball comedy, and deals with notably darker material.
Jesse Eisenberg's antisocial pizza delivery driver Nick Davis sees himself as a likeable guy; he's willing to give out free pizza to desperate kids in order to appease his employer's policies. However, Nick is in an ongoing argument with his best friend and roommate Chet (Aziz Ansari) over an adolescent romance he once had with Chet's twin sister. Nick wants to fix their relationship, but is forced to become a criminal when aspiring bank robbers Dwayne Mikowlski (Danny McBride) and Travis Cord (Nick Swardson) kidnap him and strap a bomb to his chest. They command the perpetually awkward Nick to assist them in a series of heists, and threaten to detonate the device if he informs the police.
Nick's reconciliation with Chet is surprisingly genuine, and the danger they endure is depicted with a light touch. McBride and Cord are also hilarious; the bickering pair want to become big time criminals, but they're completely incompetent and only seek the approval of their foul-mouthed father Jerry (Fred Ward).
"Superbad" is masterful in its handling of cringe-inducing humor. It wouldn't be funny if its situations became too uncomfortable, but the film manages to push the boundaries of good taste without creating unnecessary discomfort for the viewer. It's a fine line to balance, and a lesson that Hill has apparently learned very well. In 2106, Hill produced the comedy "Why Him?," a film much better than its sour early reviews indicated.
Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston) owns and operates a printing company, but he rarely sees any serious rewards for his hard work. After a meager birthday celebration, Fleming learns that his studious daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) is dating wacky video game developer Laird Matthews (James Franco). Laird is completely out of touch with reality, and has a lavish private mansion where he develops his technology through unnecessarily complicated home living devices. Laird plans to propose to Stephanie, and invites Ned, his wife Barb (Megan Mullally), and their younger son Scotty (Griffin Gluck) to join him for the weekend. Ned is quickly embarrassed by Laird's behavior, and when he learns of the prospective marriage, he decides to do everything in his power to stop it.
Laird pushes Ned far outside of his comfort zone, and Cranston makes the middle-aged man compelling despite his conservative attitudes. Franco may not have to stretch too much to play an eccentric weirdo, but he's nonetheless hilarious.
The Kings Of Summer
In "Superbad," Seth and Even have a playful independent streak. Their parents are largely clueless about their activities, and they're left to their own devices throughout. The 2013 coming-of-age dramedy "The Kings of Summer" takes a more serious approach to similar material. Future "Kong: Skull Island" director Jordan Vogt-Roberts explores both how important and also how dangerous it can be for teenage boys to live on their own with his heartwarming debut film.
Joe Toy (Nick Robinson) is annoyed at his austere father Frank (Nick Offerman) and his controlling nature, and an argument that concludes with Frank calling the cops finally sets him over the edge. Joe gathers his best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) and makes plans to run away together, deciding to build a cabin in the woods where they can control their own destinies. An enigmatic and strange boy named Baggio (Moisés Arias) joins them in creating a secluded home off the grid.
While their early adventures are fun, the boys have to adjust to providing for themselves. Their absence leaves gaping holes in their respective families, and "The Kings of Summer" earnestly depicts the process of reconnecting with loved ones who have different moral beliefs.
In "Superbad," Evan and Seth have spent virtually their entire lives together, and essentially feel like they're siblings. The prospect of leaving each other when they go to different colleges subtly terrifies them both, although neither boy is willing to admit their feelings to the other. The tension of Evan's impending departure is present throughout — in the final scene, all it takes is a passing glance to express their affection before they both move on to adulthood.
The stress of leaving a high school best friend behind is also the core theme of the idiosyncratic 2001 indie comedy "Ghost World," based on the beloved graphic novel by Daniel Clowes. Enid Coleslaw (Thora Birch) and Rebecca Doppelmeyer (Scarlett Johansson) pride themselves on their defiant attitudes; they're outsiders in their high school's social circles, and enjoy mocking their graduating class. Their only summer plans are to enter the workforce and live on their own together, but Enid and Rebecca soon discover that their seemingly simple goal is much more complex than it seems.
Rebecca struggles with Enid's constantly ironic outlook. They both enjoy satirizing the superficial desires of their fellow students, but Enid's scheme to deceive the lonely music collector Seymour (Steve Buscemi) with a false date strikes Rebecca as particularly cruel. For her part, Enid surprises herself as she begins to sympathize with Seymour. He's just as isolated as the girls are; the prank is at least a change of pace.
Adventures In Babysitting
"Superbad" is one of the definitive "all in one night" high school adventure films; all of the heartfelt musings, botched romantic encounters, wild drug experiments, and unusual side characters are contained to a brief stretch of time, during which Evan and Seth are never sure what the next moment will bring. It's an effective structure for a comedy, and one that's particularly impactful for adolescent coming-of-age stories about teenagers who treat every night like it's their last on Earth.
The 1987 teen comedy "Adventures in Babysitting" has a similarly chaotic vibe, with a mix of existential high school musing, raunchiness, black humor, and awkward scenarios that "Superbad" fans may enjoy. Freshman Brad Anderson (Keith Coogan) is hopelessly in love with the senior Chris Parker (Elizabeth Shue), but the older girl barely notices him. Brad finally gets a chance to spend some time with his crush when Chris gets a job babysitting his younger sister Sara (Maia Brewton), but his obnoxious sibling only humiliates him by revealing his affections to Chris. Brad laments his hardships to his best friend Daryl (Anthony Rapp); Daryl is a foul-mouthed, yet loveable goofball similar to Hill in "Superbad."
Chris responds to a late-night call from her best friend Brenda (Penelope Ann Miller) and quickly drives to meet her, losing Sara along the way. Chris, Brenda, Brad, Sara, and Daryl embark on a wild trip through the south side of Chicago, encountering robbers, drug addicts, prostitutes, and a mechanic who convinces Sara he's Thor.
Younger viewers may appreciate "Superbad" for its fleshed-out depiction of older characters. The film's adults, specifically the goofy police officers Slater (Bill Hader) and Michaels (Rogen), are just as clueless as the teenagers, but they're not complete clichés. Slater and Michaels see a yearning within McLovin that they relate to, and are willing to pretend that he's an adult in order to improve the awkward lad's social standing. It's a subversion of the typical stoic police officer archetype that is common in high school comedies.
The 2007 coming-of-age dramedy "Charlie Bartlett" is similarly sensitive to both the kids' and adults' perspectives. The titular Charlie (the late Anton Yelchin) is a privileged student who has been kicked out of every prestigious school that his irresponsible mother (Hope Davis) has enrolled him in. Charlie enters public education for the first time, and immediately his professional demeanor makes him a social outcast and a target for the school's bullies. Charlie finds a reason to keep going when he falls for the rebellious Susan (Kat Dennings). However, he soon learns that Susan's defiant attitude is a reaction to her strict upbringing at the hands of her father, Principal Nathan Gardner (Robert Downey Jr.).
In one of his last roles before "Iron Man," Downey crafts a three-dimensional antagonist. Gardner was once a popular teacher, but he's been unable to rekindle his love of education. No longer able to relate to teenagers, Gardner has become overly strict. He targets Charlie for his pursuit of Susan, but finds they have many things in common.
The anxiety that high school students feel about their futures is pertinent to "Superbad," as Evan and Seth are excited about leaving the restrictions of their parents and school behind. There are hints about where they're going to college, but the exact institutions aren't as important as the freedom itself. However, the pursuit of academic perfection is essential to one of the funniest high school movies ever made.
1983's "Risky Business" launched Tom Cruise's career. In it, Cruise's aptly named Joel Goodson lives in the wealthy North Shore area of Chicago, and is dedicated to getting an acceptance letter to his father's alma mater, Princeton University. Although a great student, Joel is no reclusive bookworm; he and his friends frequently gamble and party, and one night gets particularly wild when Joel falls in love with a prostitute named Lana (Rebecca De Mornay). The classic sequence in which Joel dances in his underwear has been parodied and paid homage to many times.
Joel faces pressure to inform his crush about his true feelings while he's preparing for his fateful interview with a representative from Princeton. It's a brilliant merging of tones from director Paul Brickman. Unfortunately, Brickman made relatively few films after "Risky Business," making the film a fascinating one-hit wonder.
The raunchiness of "Superbad" is done in good taste; the film pushes the line with some of its more extreme gags, but the characters are not depicted in a way that's demeaning. This is something of a rarity. Raunchy modern comedies often feel unrealistic, and the story of the 2020 black comedy "Zola" reads like one of Hollywood's wilder fictitious creations. However, the film is actually based on a true story, and first-time director Jazinca Bravo creatively integrates the real accounts of those involved in the film.
Zola King (Taylour Paige) is a part-time stripper, and strikes up a friendship with a more experienced dancer, Stefani (Riley Keough). Stefani invites Zola to join her on a road trip to Tampa with her boyfriend Derek (Nicholas Braun), but they're derailed by the dangerous pimp known simply as X (Colman Domingo). Zola is shocked to learn that Stefani hasn't been honest with her as the rowdy gang is forced to appease X's demands.
The Dangerous Lives Of Altar Boys
"Superbad" may have been an instant hit, but not every high school classic worthy of appreciation immediately takes its rightful place within the popular culture lexicon. 2002's independent dramedy "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys" has mostly been forgotten, which perhaps isn't surprising considering that its less of an immediate crowd-pleaser than "Superbad." However, while the underrated coming-of-age film highlights the seclusive nature of an extreme religious upbringing, it does so with a comic sense of mischief that "Superbad" fans may appreciate.
In '70s Georgia, private Catholic high school students Francis Doyle (Emile Hirsch), Tim Sullivan (Kieran Culkin), Wade Scalisi (Jake Richardson), and Joey Anderson (Tyler Long) develop their own comic book series called "The Atomic Trinity." It's a work of self-expression that allows them to escape their dull lives, as their legitimate personal hardships aren't recognized by the community elders. In an act of rebellion, the boys begin defacing the school and stealing religious artifacts to hide in their clubhouse. As the pranks begin to spiral out of control, their status at school is threatened, while long-kept secrets threaten to tear the group apart.
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