Ratso Rizzo, Joe Buck Back in School

Ah, high school. Where the girls are slutty, the guys are macho studs or nerdy caricatures, and oddly everyone seems to be about 31 — forever.



Directed by Judd Apatow

Sony Pictures

Opens Aug. 17

Ah, high school. Where the girls are slutty, the guys are macho studs or nerdy caricatures, and oddly everyone seems to be about 31 — forever. Or at least that's how it looks like on TV, where everything you remember about your high school experience melds into some sort of comfortable soap opera with a marketable name like “Saved By The Bell” or “The O.C.”

These visions of beauty, wealth, and thinly-disguised adult actors, however, usually bear sadly little resemblance to our actual time in high school, which probably involved some level of acne and a lot less sex than adults might imagine.

But that's not what people want to see. Or is it?

Judd Apatow, fearless producer/writer/director of “comedies” has, for the past eight or so years, been reevaluating our memories of growing up, with his brilliant, but prematurely canceled television shows “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared,” both re-imaginings of youth as a time of drama, sometimes, but principally as one of supreme awkwardness. His earlier film this summer, “Knocked Up,” left off where his TV shows ended, showing the progression of adolescence into adulthood. And it was brilliant, funny, and sympathetic.

Now, from many of the same people whom Apatow has stayed with throughout his productions — he seems to collect actors — comes a revisionist look at “Last Day of High School: The Movie”. His title: “Superbad”.

The film's premise sounds fairly commonplace — two nerdy kids try to get laid before high school is over. However, the execution surprises. Here in its all its seedy glory is high school – an endless string of swearing, the superfluous use of the word “boner,” the reply to any sentence with a ready-made “your mom” joke. Our heroes, Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera), live as utter innocents in a high school world full of vulgarity and profanity. Their quest centers on trying to get booze to a party, but they spend most of the film making fun of each other, imagining sex, and trying not to think about what life will be like when they go off to different colleges, perhaps never to see each other again.

Despite all its hijinks, “Superbad” is ultimately a love story about two friends who can't admit how much they care about each other. A “Midnight Cowboy” for our time.

.. Really Well, kinda.

In any event, the film's comic performances are top notch. The two leads are excellent, especially Hill — Cera, though quite good also, is essentially reprising his role from television's “Arrested Development.” Another standout is the clowniest of all the film's clowns, Fogel (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). A non-actor, Mintz-Plasse is hilariously, painfully awkward, easily out-nerding the film's leads. An ensemble cast, including cameos from other Apatow productions and “Saturday Night Live,” reliably keeps up the laughs.

But it's the writing that's so surprising, separating this film from gunk like “American Pie” and “Can't Hardly Wait.” The writers have grasped that the comedy of high school comes not from the supposed freedom of youth others have flaunted, but rather from the depressing ineptitude many teenagers feel.

We can't help but feel for the characters in “Superbad” given their painful hopelessness, so we laugh with them and at them simultaneously, just as they would do themselves. In fact, the film's writers were Seth Rogen, who appears in the film, and his best friend Evan Goldberg while they were still in high school. It was, for them, a swan song for a time that may never come again.

For a movie with so many expletives, poop jokes, and other moments of questionable taste, discussing it with such complexity may seem odd, even contrived. But Apatow's work can never be judged simply on face value. We get our laughs at the price of loving our characters and recalling something ourselves.

“Superbad”, in all its hormonal insanity, is the comedy of our lives, funny and gross and damn cool to boot.