Sunday, May 1, 2011

'Superbad' Take on Homoeroticism

Maybe I'm a little late to the criticism party, but this blog is fairly new, so cut me a break. I have a genuine interest in searching out good teen comedies, because even young audiences deserve something more than cheap masturbation jokes and fake vomit. Maybe that's good enough for some audiences, but I can't be the only one who grew up wanting to be Molly Ringwald. So when Superbad came out in 2007, I thought there was finally something that met in the middle: dick jokes with some heart. And I have to be honest, on initial viewing I really did enjoy myself.

It's a funny movie! Hoorah! But here is the problem... even with all the cursing and sex jokes and embracing of homosocial behavior, the film overall chickens out in the end.


The two main characters are played by Michael Cera and Jonah Hill, and they make a very sweet couple in the screwball comedy tradition. I don't mean that in the Dumb and Dumber sense, I am referring to the romantic, slapstick comedies of the 1930's and 40's like His Girl Friday and Bringing Up Baby where a straighlaced man gets mixed up with some wacky dame who gets him in all sorts of hijinx. Their sexual relationship is played out through a series of pratfalls and they overcome social barriers to be together in the end.
In Superbad, Michael Cera is the uptight man who gets into all kinds of crazy situations because of Jonah Hill, the rambunctious partner. The tension in the film comes from the fact that Cera's character, Evan, is going to a better school than Seth (Hill). They will soon be separated and have to make the most of their last few months, without admitting their fears about being alone. Evan is of a higher level academically, and is being pulled away by Fogel, the nerdier partner that on paper is a better match for Evan. Just like in screwball comedies, there is another character coming between the protagonists, threatening the relationship whether intentional or not. Fogel is the stand-in for social convention.

Throughout all the pratfalls and physical gags, Evan and Seth remain on their journey to bring alcohol to a high school party so they can impress girls, but the whole time, the romantic relationship between the two leads is always more important than what they can have with their love interests. In screwball comedies, the physical comedy moments (falling, bumping into each other, etc) represent sexual behavior. They couldn't actually have sex or get too affectionate, but they could have a different kind of contact, and that is true for Superbad as well. Seth saves Evan by carrying him out of a raided party like a damsel in distress, off into the night. They go so far as to profess their love for each other in a warm, drunken embrace that feels to the audience like a missed opportunity for a kiss on some level. And this is where I have a real problem with this movie. This is where the film rejects its open-minded, open-hearted, and sincerely funny gag of a boy-boy love story. I don't think that the characters should have really kissed a la Y Tu Mama Tambien, but perhaps the film should have just ended here, with the two friends coming to terms with their affection and deep-rooted friendship. Instead, the film veers way off course, in my opinion.

In the morning after scene, the two wake up as if in a post-coital embarrassment and decide to brush off the night before with awkward silence and interrupted ramblings about needing to leave, and before Seth makes his hurried exit, he calls back a comment about Evan's mom's breasts in order to confirm his manhood. The film itself is having a Morning After moment, trying to reject the homoerotic implications of its previous scenes and washing it away with heterosexual pairings. The boys get dressed, go to the mall, and part ways for the long haul with their pretty new girlfriends. They look back longingly at each other, but know they can't go on like this forever.

By having these last few scenes, the film is in essence saying that all the love and friendship the boys have has to be cast aside, that although they know how they really feel, there's something kind of gay about wanting to spend more time together so they better grow up and nail some girls. I just wish that Superbad was willing to embrace its own commentary on the buddy film genre and the closeness that can exist in a male friendship.

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