In Defense of Bro-Comedy "Superbad"

With d*ck jokes, raunchiness, extreme partying and scripts that rarely pass the Bechdel Test, it is hard to believe that I could ever like a bro-comedy. I tend to enjoy romantic comedies and period pieces. Nevertheless, Superbad remains in my top ten films of all time. 

Before I get into why I love the movie so much, I want to mention something about the phrase “bro-comedy.” Bro-comedy is a loosely defined term used to describe movies like Superbad. These movies typically feature an all-male cast, with maybe one or two female love interests, offensive humor and over-the-top ridiculous plot lines. They are the type of movie you could picture a group of guy-friends watching. The Hangover, Ted and American Pie are a few notable bro-comedies. These movies are also referred to as bromance movies, but I think bro-comedy is a better term. I do not mean to imply movies are gendered, per se,  but I do feel it’s important to call out the bro-comedy’s obvious target demographic. It can reveal a lot about why and how the movie is produced and advertised. If there are going to be chick-flicks like Mean Girls, there are going to be bro-comedies like Dumb and Dumber (a movie I loathe with every part of me). I want to make the case for Superbad, an unexpected masterpiece of the bro-comedy genre.  

For those who do not remember or have not seen the movie, let me give you a brief synopsis.

Two high school seniors, Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Micheal Cera), are two weeks away from graduation, and tensions between them are high. Evan is going to Dartmouth University, and he’s ready to forget all about his high school misadventures with Seth. Seth feels betrayed by Evan’s decision to move away, and his secret jealousy causes him to lash out at Evan. In a quest to have sex for the first time, the two best friends enlist their friend Fogell to help them get alcohol for a party. Their goal is to get the girls they like drunk enough to sleep with them. Beyond the surface plot of trying to get alcohol for a party (and a side plot involving Fogell and two irresponsible cops), the driving plot point is the conflict between two best friends edging closer to their impending separation. This conflict, reveals deep insecurities. 

Believe it or not, Superbad includes one of the best depictions of toxic masculinity that I have ever seen.

Writers Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg, whether they knew it or not, wrote perfectly contrasting characters to highlight toxic masculinity. Seth is a loud, foul-mouthed teenager who expresses his masculinity in extreme ways. He openly objectifies all the women around him by making crude jokes and gestures. He presents panicked heterosexuality along with his toxic masculinity, as he constantly tries to prove his manliness with his hyper fixation on sex. Evan, in contrast, is a quiet guy who has respectful crushes on girls. He can admit girls are attractive and he has the same teenage urges as Seth, but he is not rude or dehumanizing. There is even a scene in which Evan raises his glass and proclaims, “Here’s to respecting women!” It’s one of my favorite moments.  

The important thing to note here: the film does not make the mistake of portraying Seth as a role model. At the beginning of the movie, Seth is characterized as weak despite his boisterous behavior. He fails to stick up for himself when a bully spits on him, and in a brief scene on the track field, he can barely run for more than 30 seconds. These traits directly conflict with the unattainable “manly man” persona Seth is chasing. He is not the person every guy wants to be. Instead, Seth is like many of us: sad, insecure and fearful. Seth even cries at the climax of the movie when the girl he likes, Jules (Emma Stone), rejects him. Through his tears, he confesses his fear that Jules would never “get with him” if she were sober. It's obvious that his over-the-top displays of masculinity are just ways to cover up his insecurities. 

Evan, being the polar opposite of Seth, is an example of how toxic masculinity damages even respectful guys. When Evan and Seth finally arrive at the party, Evan is faced with a challenge: Becca (Martha MacIsaac), Evan’s crush is far too drunk to have sex, but she is hell-bent on it, and everyone is pressuring him to go for it. What follows is the most awkward and un-sexy sex scene to ever exist. Becca is all over Evan, and Evan is not into it but is trying to convince himself that he is, because toxic culture tells him he should always want sex. The scene is not only hilarious, but it also demonstrates the deeper message that men like Evan feel to conform to these masculine social norms.  

In addition to the surprising pieces of social commentary, the movie is also incredibly entertaining.

The pacing of this movie is flawless, with comedy in every part of the movie. Although there are elements of shock value, the movie never seems to take it too far, at least for me. Comedy is largely subjective, but for being in a category mostly famous for their vulgarity and offensiveness, Superbad is fairly tame. Other than some graphic drawings of male genitalia, harsh language and some creative descriptions of sex, most of the humor is goofy; it's so ridiculous you can’t take it seriously. The funniest scene in the whole film, which you can watch on YouTube here: McLovin Scene (warning: very strong language and suggestive material), revolves around a silly name, McLovin. Overall, the movie stays funny throughout and doesn’t lose its edge midway through, a remarkable feat in movie-making.

I have not watched a bro-comedy that even touches what Superbad accomplished. It remained hilarious without crossing the line and provided a subtle but worthwhile message to its audience. If you are willing to give it a chance, I think Superbad can worm its way into your heart as well. 

 

You can watch Superbad on Hulu with a regular subscription.