Film >EVERYBODY'S DOING IT
Before I make the bold claim that Superbad is the best teen sex comedy ever made, some historical context: There was a time when I thought American Pie was quite brilliant. Namely, that time was its opening night, and I was the naive age of 16. Despite the necessary presence of a parent or legal guardian (I can’t remember which; I only know I was too much of an angel to sneak into an R-rated movie), the experience was something like an epiphany. There was the obvious relatability – I was but a year away from being a frustrated virgin myself on high school prom night – and, though I hate to admit to such a base selling point now, there were Shannon Elizabeth’s breasts, which, to my 16-year-old eyes, must have seemed like two Holy Grails.
And the movie was genuinely funny. Of course, I hadn’t seen the film’s iconic genre antecedents, but at the time it was an original force: an emotionally honest, if narratively ludicrous, film that addressed high schoolers as sexual beings without the trappings of a frighten-your-parents cautionary tale. (I’d seen the first half of Kids by that point, and it was enough to scare the bejesus out of my libido.)
I later matured and began watching more movies, becoming the pretentious cinematic sophisticate I am today. Paul Weitz’s breakthrough no longer had the knowing self-identification or trailblazing luster, and it wasn’t long before my oft-played American Pie VHS was loaded off to a used-CD store.
During my brief affair with the film, little did I know that it spearheaded the second wave in one of American cinema’s youngest subgenres: the teen sex comedy. Prior to the ’80s groundswell of now-neglected quest-for-sex pictures, sex among young people was a film taboo. Before 1980, pre-college sex was almost never depicted, usually forbidden and always in the context of a moral drama (think Splendor in the Grass, A Summer Place). It took Porky’s to finally realize the fertile ground for comedy.
The episodic, one-gag-after-another plot of Porky’s managed to find time to criticize bigotry (too bad it didn’t hold misogyny to the same standard), lending this prototypical teen sex comedy a shred of credibility. The message was: You can make your teen sex comedy as distasteful as you want; just make sure the audience has something thoughtful to take home with them, an “I learned something today” moment. Risky Business went overboard in this respect, forgoing the laughs altogether for an obvious allegory about capitalism. Fast Times at Ridgemont High hit every note just right: hilarious, authentic, emotionally involving and still shocking today, its masturbation, blow-job simulation and stoner jokes balanced with a moving plot about a girl’s deflowering, impregnation and subsequent abortion.
The trend continued with mostly trashy and forgettable genre copycats throughout the ’80s, late-night cable mainstays like Losin’ It, Zapped! and Private Lessons. By 1990, it appeared the genre had run its course.
Nine years later Jason Biggs would fuck a pie and open the floodgates again. The Gen-X Porky’s, American Pie provided plenty of lazy screenwriters a way in, through either lousy Pie sequels or, lately, the influx of direct-to-video garbage from the folks at National Lampoon.
The teen sex comedy is now as dead as the Western and the musical. But, like those genres, all it takes is a brilliantly original vision to bring life back to it. If the Western has The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada and The Proposition and the musical has Dancer in the Dark and Team America: World Police, then the teen sex comedy has Superbad. My doubts about the movie were nullified within the first 10 minutes, when I was laughing so hard – along with everybody else at the packed advance screening – that patches of the film became inaudible, drowned out by the endless guffaws.
While Judd Apatow only has a producing credit, the film is every bit as cerebral as the fine comedies he’s written and directed. Just as Apatow resurrected the moribund pregnancy film with Knocked Up, director Greg Mottola and co-writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg take the teen sex comedy into its biggest laughs and surprisingly tenderest plot twists ever. Jonah Hill and Michael Cera, both tremendously appealing fresh faces, play two best friends at the close of their senior year of high school. They have one last party to get laid before going off to separate colleges. Their dorky acquaintance, blessed with a fake ID, gives them an idea: They could be the guys who provide booze for the party, making them gods among the underage drinkers and increasing their chances of scoring with their respective crushes.
Long but never boring, Superbad uses its lengthy running time to expound on character with the kind of depth rarely exhibited in movies of its type, and much of the humor borders on genius. It’s probably too early to proclaim a third wave for the teen sex comedy, but I’ll be content with this brief genre resuscitation, proof that the appeal for expert movies of this kind can last long after the embarrassing relatability has faded.