Superbad: A Fine Bromance

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Melissa Moseley / Columbia Pictures

Seth, played by Jonah Hill (left), and Evan, Michael Cera, in Superbad.

The summer comedy season opened with Judd Apatow's Knocked Up, starring Seth Rogen as a pudgy, mouthy slob who carelessly impregnates pretty Katherine Heigl. The movie is supposed to be the story of how they fall in love, and into shared responsibility. But the scene with the deepest communion of personalities is when the Rogen character gets high in a Vegas motel room with ... Heigl's brother-in-law.

Today we have the summer's last major comedy: Superbad, produced by Apatow and co-written by Rogen. It's about a pudgy, mouthy slob named Seth (Jonah Hill) and his quieter, slightly more kempt buddy Evan (Michael Cera) who want, with variously intense degrees of desperation, to get laid before they graduate from high school. At the end of a night of wacky hijinks, the lads do wind up in a sleeping bag, exchanging intimacies with...each other.

Why don't Apatow and Rogen just do the honorable thing and tell the world they're gay? It would save them a lot of time wasted pretending their movies are about young men growing up and finding the right young woman. It would also save movie critics from having to find new ways of saying, about their maxi-raunch comedies, "Oh, but at heart they're really sweet."

And while Hollywood is being honest about the new strain of guy-meets-guy comedy — bromance, the word writer Dave Carnie coined to describe the strong emotional attachment of one man for another — maybe Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler should come out of the closet too. In Ferrell's movies, male merging beats female interest to a pulp, and his latest, Blades of Glory, allows him several opportunities to stick his face in Jon Heder's crotch. Sandler's summer hit, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, took guy-guy friendship to its logical conclusion: two firefighters get married. At least that seemed as far as boy-meets-boy comedies could go, until Superbad's cuddle-up scene.

And yet there may be one more border to cross. When Apatow appeared last week on The Colbert Report, and was asked what was possibly left to show in male comedies, he instantly answered, "A penis." I don't doubt that Apatow was speaking ironically, yet there was self-revelation there to, since that's exactly the sexual organ that the fellows in Knocked Up and Superbad (and his earlier The 40-Year-Old Virgin) are most obsessed by.


I'm in a pretty small minority of critics who aren't enchanted by the Apatow movies. The first four reviews I read online this morning of Superbad, all by women, in the New York and L.A. Timeses and the Washington and New York Posts, ranged from favorable to ecstatic. Manohla Dargis' notice in the New York Times described the film's phallo-neurosis with a gusto that soared into poetry: "If the penis is puzzled in Portnoy's Complaint, as Alexander Portnoy's shrink believes, in Superbad it is thoroughly, stunningly clueless and as violently tremulous as a divining rod at Hoover Dam." (Congrats to Manohla, by the way, for getting shrink and penis into the same sentence.) The token male critic I consulted, Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal, was just as enthusiastic: this "bawdy, big-hearted" comedy is a "canny evocation of male friendship in all its richness and complexity." It's as if all these worthy scribes have the rapture, and I'm left behind.

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