Like the instant comedy classic Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, the uproarious Superbad kicks ass and delivers plenty of laughs with a remarkably simple premise. Essentially, it's about one night of random misadventures experienced by a trio of socially inept high school friends (Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse) when they try to buy alcohol for a party to impress two girls (Emma Stone and Martha MacIsaac). Things get increasingly wackier when the liquor store they are patronizing gets robbed, and one of the guys gets shanghaied into a tangential escapade with a pair of insane police officers (Seth Rogen and Bill Hader). The script was penned by writing partners Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, and the film is yet another in a long line of hit comedies produced by Judd Apatow and Shauna Robertson.
Working with the same creative team has been a de facto tradition with Apatow, and Jonah Hill has been one of the lucky guys along for the ride. The young actor has seen his career flourish in recent years, starting with a brief appearance in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, moving onto supporting roles in Accepted and Knocked Up, and now headlining in Superbad as Seth, a character based upon Rogen as a teenager. The success hasn't gone to his head--he still remembers the reporters who interviewed him during his humble beginnings, and he constantly continues to acknowledge the breaks Apatow has given him. He's also still enthusiastic about the entire process, beaming, "I get to work with all my friends, which is like the most exciting part of all this." When asked if he was able to relate to his character, he jokingly nods, "Yeah, totally. I didn't get laid in high school."
But even with his tenure with Apatow's crew and the central role, Hill wasn't the first actor to be signed for Superbad. That distinction went to Michael Cera in the role of Evan (based on a teenage Evan Goldberg), the straightman whose nice guy routine occasionally borders on creepy. The fact that he was so funny in the audition phase not only raised the bar for the entire casting process, but presented a problem of having too much of a good thing. Rogen recalls, "It was bad because that wasn't even like the funny [part]. We're like, 'Sh*t, the non-funny guy's funnier than the funny guy! What are we supposed to do?'"
Art imitating life hasn't been uncommon in Apatow's work. In Knocked Up, actors Jason Segel, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, and Martin Starr all played characters named Jason, Jay, Jonah, and Martin, respectively, because they felt the onscreen personas were just versions of themselves, and the footage Apatow shoots for DVD extras often blurs the line between what's real and what's staged. When it came time to play larger-than-life movie versions of Evan and Seth, Michael Cera and Jonah Hill had the real deals readily available. Goldberg jokes, "Michael lived with me for a month," prompting Rogen to follow up with, "He studied him. Like Jane Goodall." But the truth was that they didn't really have much to do in the way of painstaking research and accurate impersonations. In fact, Hill recounts that it was basically a foregone conclusion that impressions were neither required or desired. He says that the feeling was solidified when Rogen said only, "You're not going to do me, right?" with the comical air of an unspoken threat.
Despite the importance of the characters of Seth and Evan, it's really their geeky sidekick Fogell (better known by the lone moniker on his fake ID, "McLovin") who is the talk of the entire movie. His forged Hawaiian driver's license, which puts him at 25 years and tags him as an organ donor, is really what sets the entire comedy machine into motion. Newcomer Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who plays McLovin, is certain to face the whole blessing/curse dichotomy that comes with playing a scene-stealer that is so instantly iconic.
For Rogen and Goldberg, the idea for Superbad came early in life, when the duo was still in high school. When asked how closely they related to their film counterparts, Rogen laughs, "It's about two guys who had a hard time getting laid in high school. That was fairly close to life." But beyond that, the story owes only its general framework to their life experience, rather than specific details. Rogen explains, "Some of the stuff, I would say it's inspired by true events. If we were about to get sued, that's what I would say our defense is. But it's more just kind of based on how we felt in high school."
Rogen says that while the core of the story always involved the guys trying to get the girls, it lacked most of the emotional themes in the final product. He credits Apatow with adding that certain level of heart to the film, but also distances himself from the mushier moments, claiming that he and Goldberg never had a hugging moment like the one shared by movie-Seth and movie-Evan. He also acknowledges the comical sexual overtones, though he doesn't consider them as subtle as others may. When asked about the homo-erotic subtext, Rogen only chuckles, "I thought it was text."
According to the men behind the story, the script was originally born after a movie viewing binge. Rogen elaborates, "And we just decided, 'Let's try to write a funny movie that we would love to see.' And we started, and we wrote a very bad dirty movie, and re-wrote it for 15 years." That lengthy process cost Rogen the opportunity to play himself in the movie. As the story goes, the original idea was for him to play Seth, but he was already passed his teenage years by the time shooting came around. Even Jonah Hill, who ultimately landed the part, was initially thought to be too old until he convinced naysayers with an audition tape he put together with the help of his colleagues.
But things may have ultimately worked out for the best, as it allowed Rogen to team up with Bill Hader to play the cops who, along with McLovin, provide most of the film's signature comedic moments. Clearly shirking their responsibilities, as well as all notion of common sense, the officers accost McLovin into a wild ride-along that has them hitting bars, getting into car chases, and firing guns indiscriminately. They also clearly suffer from emotional issues, and hilariously revel in video footage of McLovin being punched out by a criminal.
In the last few years, producer/director/writer Judd Apatow has been on a tear, cranking out a string of hits that have included The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and now Superbad. When asked about the key to his success, he modestly and comically defers to his producing partner Shauna Robertson. "The main thing I'm doing is having Shauna do all the work. And that seems to just be working out. It's a bait and switch." Robertson has served as a producer on a long list of beloved comedies--in addition to the aforementioned films, she has produced Anchorman, Elf, and Meet the Parents, and has Forgetting Sarah Marshall and The Pineapple Express currently in the pipeline.
On the topic of studio interference with their creative process, Apatow explains that the suits give him a little more leeway with each success he notches. But despite giving the Hollywood machine a solid return on its investments in him, he wryly prepares for the worst. "I think there's something natural happening that we'll soon screw up and all price ourselves out of the business."