Superbad: an exploration of male friendship
Updated: Jun 14, 2019
Superbad is one of those films that are fondly remembered by a lot of people. Its relatable situations, top notch comedy and hilarious performances are unforgettable and have led to a lot of people calling it a generation defining movie. In a way it’s the millennial version of movies like The Breakfast Club or Ferris Bueller's Day Off. However, the reason the movie resonates with so many people is because of the things it does differently from those exact movies.
The film doesn’t shy away from cliches or tropes, since this is practically impossible, and it doesn’t set out to deconstruct them either. But what it does do fantastically is focus on the right things. Superbad doesn’t romanticise high school by having everybody divided into cliques or have mean girls or bullies, the main characters are presented as losers, but not to such a degree that it’s unbelievable and above everything, it shows how each character’s insecurities drive their motivations.
The film mostly follows two high school students, Evan (played by Michael Cera) and Seth (played by Jonah Hill) just before graduation. The basic plot could be watered down to “two students try to get laid at a party before graduating”, but doing so would strip it of it’s nuance. A good way to see this is how the two main characters approach it. Seth is the more insistent of the two, who really just wants to have sex in order to feel good about himself as he is perhaps the most insecure character in the movie. He is a person who says crass things because he knows that people see him that way, and he has no problem sleeping with a drunk woman because he is convinced of the fact that he would stay a virgin otherwise. Evan, however, is more of a people pleaser and wants to maintain his ideals of being a gentleman. His plan is to get closer to Becca, the girl who he’s had a crush on for a very long time. Evan is driven by doing the right thing, even though he is characterized as a bit of a doormat. Which is why in the end, even though he has the opportunity to, he doesn’t sleep with Becca because she is intoxicated and he thinks that she’ll regret it later.
These two characters are very different, but the film takes its time showing why they are friends and why they are afraid of losing that friendship even if they don’t say it explicitly until the end. It’s established at the beginning of the movie that Evan is going to a different college than Seth and that either one of them wants to admit that they’ll miss each other. Evan is also presented as the smarter of the two, which creates resentment as he feels that Seth is holding him back. However, as the film goes on and the characters start to get into more crazy situations, we start to see how these two teenagers depend on each other both emotionally, and in order to get things done. Superbad is as much an exploration of male friendship as Fight Club is an exploration of male aggression.
Things are changing, but it’s still seen as taboo in a lot of circles for men to be emotional with each other and the film knows it, as the characters are only able to be at peace with each other and themselves once they express how they feel and stop caring about how they are supposed to act. Which is why when Evan is finally able to tell Seth that he loves him as a friend, it comes across as the film’s most touching scene.
Most films about friendship focus on what friends can achieve together, but Superbad focuses on what friendship actually means and how it’s perceived. Emotional intimacy is treated as a step to enlightenment and not as a bromance based joke. You can tell that these characters really care about each other and feel very invested in their struggles to admit it. In the end, it isn’t about getting laid or getting alcohol for the party. It’s about these two friends finding themselves.
Superbad is a brilliant coming of age story that everybody should watch, either for its comedy, its subject matter, or both. At first glance it may seem like a generic raunchy teen sex comedy, which is why a lot of people don’t give it a chance. Seth Rogen has said that he based a large part of the movie on his experiences as a teenager and on his friendship with his co-writer Evan Goldberg (hence the names of the characters), which is why the film is consistently relatable despite it’s absurd tone.
So, if you haven’t watched Superbad or have gained a new perspective, I recommend that you check it out, as it might surprise you in many ways.