Regardless of whether or not you’ve ever been a teenage boy, we’ve all encountered enough of them that Superbad’s opening phone conversation between Seth (Jonah Hill) and his best friend Evan (Michael Cera) shouldn't be surprising. They’re talking about sex — not the kind they’re having themselves, of course, but the kind on the internet. Seth is trying to decide which porn site to subscribe to when he leaves for college in a few months. He’s intrigued by the graphic spectacle of “The Vag-tastic Voyage,” but Evan prefers something with more class and production value. This argument is more than just an indicator of their personalities (though that will be relevant in a minute) — it’s a glimpse into their codependent relationship. They stay on the phone until the moment Evan gets in Seth’s car. The audio even echoes enough that we have to notice it. Their constant tether to each other is just that important, so much so that Evan’s mom (Stacy Edwards) wonders aloud how they’ll be able to survive when they go off to separate schools. And that’s where Superbad’s driving conflict becomes clear: this isn’t a sleazy romp about getting as drunk and laid as possible before graduating. It’s about two friends forced to confront a dangerous world without each other.
And so after promising the ladies that they could get booze for the big party, our boys go out into that world, hoping to come of age in a glorious explosion of Gold Slick Vodka and spermicidal lubricant. What’s interesting is the way the film splits them up: Seth and Evan run into Francis (Joe Lo Truglio), whose seedy vibe and awkward desperation essentially make him a grown-up Fogell. Fogell, on the other hand, is picked up by Officers Slater and Michaels (Bill Hader and Seth Rogan), two reckless and self-involved friends whose disregard of professional norms gets them into trouble. If they sound like adult versions of Seth and Evan, you might be picking up what Superbad is putting down. These would-be adults reflect who the three friends might turn into if they don’t move on, if they never grow up. The film then subverts expectations by presenting the adult world (the bar with the violent psychopath and the burnout party with…the violent psychopath) as dangerous and unfulfilling, while the kids at Jules’ kegger seem more genuine and inclusive. When they reconvene there at the end of the film, the boys have seen glimpses of their futures and found inroads toward healthier self images.
*For the purposes of this essay, I’m largely whistling past the issue of consent in Superbad. Yes, Seth and Evan are essentially planning to date rape their crushes. No amount of hemming and hawing about naivety and innocence is going to change that. We may clearly see the (flawed) logic and emotional roots of their behavior, but that doesn’t excuse it. It’s a serious conversation just outside the scope of this essay.