Superbad was a pretty big hit upon its release, but, even then, film buffs would likely have been surprised by just how much Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s raunchy comedy would continue to resonate for both older and younger audiences more than a decade later. Sure, it’s funny, oddly wholesome, and filled with stars—Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, Emma Stone, Bill Hader—that would go on to achieve superstardom, but why has it emerged as a kind of crown jewel in the pantheon of coming-of-age teen sex dramas?
A new essay from Film Radar delves into several points when attempting to answer this question, but two stand out as particular striking. The first is the film’s refusal to cash in on nostalgia—unlike most teen sex comedies, there’s barely anything in Superbad that ties it specifically to the era in which it was made. While some films—Dazed and Confused, for example—live and die by their interpretation and indulgence of the era, Superbad mostly eschews period-specific jokes and even frontloads its soundtrack with classic rock and funk tracks. The result is a movie that isn’t content to appeal solely to the generation with whom it grew up.
Film Radar’s other point is the way it subtly subverts the tropes of the traditional teen sex comedy, almost all of which are filtered through a male gaze. While Hollywood is only just starting to afford young women the same kind of raunchy narrative—see: Blockers—Superbad defied the sex comedies of yore by not lighting a fuse beneath young, male horniness so much as honestly investigate it. Sure, Cera and Hill’s characters are as sex-obsessed as any high schooler, but they’re anxious, good-hearted guys. Not very many teen sex comedies hold up in the modern era, as so many of them—from Revenge Of The Nerds to American Pie—involve comedy being derived from the protagonists “comically” bypassing a woman’s consent to fulfill their own sex drive.
In Superbad, the culmination of Cera’s journey finds him comically navigating the tension between his own horniness and his desire to, well, not be a scumbag. And the best part? Rogen and Goldberg didn’t need to dial down the raunch one bit to integrate these progressive ideas. Superbad remains delightfully filthy.
Watch the full video essay above.
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