Wednesday, September 5, 2007

John Hughes All Grown Up

I can't say that early on I looked upon the summer line-up of movies too fondly. I felt that Spiderman 3 had some promise because I enjoyed 2 so much and I was excited for the next Harry Potter because I do believe that that franchise has held up well. But those were somewhat given and being that they were sequels, I was excited but not ecstatic. But there was one bright spot I was fixating all my attention. A small beam of light that poked through all the monotony. The beam was Knocked Up. I waited for with anxious glee, boldly declaring that it would be the runaway of the summer and one of the best comedies in a long while. Well, I was somewhat right. While I enjoyed it, I found it a bit clumsy in parts. The storyline was a bit jumbled veering off on side stories for the sole reason that they set up good gags. And sometimes those gags weren't even that good. And as seems to be the case with Judd Apatow, the movie ran about 20 minutes too long. But I still enjoyed the movie, just not as much as I thought it would.

Then came word of Superbad, not written or directed by Apatow, but produced by him. The story was written by Seth Rogan and his childhood buddy Evan Goldberg when they were just 13 years old (that's at least when they started writing). And it was directed by Greg Mottola whose last movie was The Daytrippers in 1996 but has directed episodes of Undeclared and Arrested Development. Again, I found myself making outrageous claims about this movie's success and its level of humor. I am not one to learn a lesson well. Fortunately for me, Superbad was excellent. I have seen it twice now and can't remember the last time I saw a movie a second time in the theater when I wasn't absolutely forced to. I am not usually a fan of comedy on the big screen because I think subtleties are lost. And I have to admit that I saw a completely different film the second time I watched this. Both equally as funny, but a deeper message the second time.

As those of you who frequent this blog know or may not know, I am a fan of John Hughes. I grew up with Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I even loved She's Having A Baby, knowing full well what a flawed movie it was. But when Kate Bush's baby voice starts singing 'This Woman's Work', I am but putty in someone's hands. For the truth is is that beneath this shield of sarcasm, beneath this armor of cynicism there lies a complete and utter sap. When I get hooked in a movie, I get hooked hard. The nerd can end up with the homecoming queen and I'm alright with it. Guys can create Kelly LeBrock with their computer and all that seems quite normal to me. It is my weakness, right or wrong. I don't deny it and I'll defend it to the ends of the earth. Since the absence of Hughes, Ringwald, Hall and company, I have not been hooked like that. The chink in the armor has closed and only a snickering bitter man has been left. That is, until I saw Superbad.

John Hughes is alive and kicking and is all over this movie, only he's a bit less preachy and his language is a hell of a lot more saucy. Talk of borrowing Samantha's underpants for 15 minutes has been replaced with lines like "momma's making a pubie salad, and she wants Seth's own dressing." But talk aside, Superbad follows the same storyline that almost every John Hughes movie did. Two geeks in high school suddenly come in to their own and end up with smokin' hot girls. Jonah Hill ending up with Emma Stone at the end of the Superbad is no more believable than Anthony Michael Hall ending up with Haviland Morris at the end of Sixteen Candles. You know it's not true and probably will never be true, but you just roll with it because you're having such a good time.

Superbad follows a day in the life of Seth (Johan Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) about three weeks before graduation from high school. The two are best friends but don't want to be outed as such because they are about to part ways to go to separate colleges. The day starts off simple enough as the two stop by the local quickie mart to get a Red Bull before class, but then quickly becomes something different as Seth gets invited to a party that Jules is having that evening. Jules just happens to be the love of Seth's life. When Seth and Evan discover that their mutual friend Fogell (wonderfully played by Chistopher Mintz-Plasse) will be getting his fake ID over lunch, it is decided that they will provide the liquor for Jules' party. Instantly, they are in demand and set to right every wrong in one evening. In addition, Seth plans to get Jules all liquored up and make his move on her as does Evan with Becca (Martha MacIsaac). Now the only thing they need to do is get the booze and that's where conflict after conflict sets in. There has been a time during your teen years where the evening began simply enough and then spiraled in to a series of events (good and bad) that you could never have imagined you would find yourself in. That is childhood and that is Superbad.

If you paid close enough attention to the 40 Year Old Virgin, you got a taste of Jonah Hill in Catherine Keener's ebay store. He wanted to buy the shiny silver disco boots, but he couldn't because those were being sold on ebay. Jonah was dry, yet hilarious and his minuscule part was suddenly made bigger by his presence. And if you saw the deleted Brokeback Mountain scene from Knocked Up, you even got a larger dose of Jonah. He is loud and boisterous and opinionated and funny as hell. This is the Jonah of Superbad and I have to admit there are times when he is so intense that he nearly wears out his welcome but for the most part you can't help but smile every time his on screen. And if you watched Arrested Development, you couldn't miss Michael Cera as George Michael, the quiet and nervous son of Michael Bluth. Michael plays more of the same as Evan. He is a good balance to Jonah and the two play off eachother very well. Seth Rogan and Bill Hader play the wannabe cool cops that thread very nicely in this whole story. Like the audience, they too want to go back in time and relive the glory days as they befriend Fogell. After seeing Rogan in several roles now, I will say that I much prefer him in the more outrageous supporting roles than as the 'aw-shucks' slacker he played in Knocked Up.

The first time I saw this movie, I reacted very much on the surface looking more for comedy and less for messaging. From the opening seconds when the Columbia logo changes from the recent one we have become accustomed to, to a more retro logo as 'Too Hot To Stop' by the Bar-Kays fills the theater, you know you're in for a good time. The jokes are fast and furious and I never felt that I was being led from one gag to the next as I did with Knocked Up. They work seamlessly within the storyline and help advance the characters. Upon the second viewing, I was able to focus on the friendship more. Much like in Ferris Bueller's Day Off but not quite as in your face, Seth and Evan face an inevitable future away from eachother, yet neither of them wants to talk about it. Throughout the movie, Seth is constantly on Evan about having his back, or ditching him when he needed him most. At the climax of the movie, Seth carries a very drunk Evan out of a house that is being raided by the cops. It is very much like he is saving him from a burning building. A few minutes later the two have a drunken conversation about how much they love eachother. The two don't understand why they don't say that to eachother every single day. The laughter was awkward in the theater, but the message was spot on. The friendships we make in our teen years are the most awkward and honest you probably will ever make.

So I wonder, is Superbad the new John Hughes movie for the next generation? One wonders how a movie like Sixteen Candles would do today? Would it be as successful? Have we as an audience changed so much and teens changed so much that it would be like watching a Leave It To Beaver episode - it's comforting, but it's just not relevant. I would like to think that it would still be successful because while teens have changed, their experiences have not. There are still crushes and parties and jocks and geeks. And it was good to see that although I am 30 years removed from those times, a movie can still feel like I did back then.


Doc said...

I liked Superbad a lot -- a whole lot -- but I don't think it's quite as accomplished as a John Hughes movie. Hughes wrote for the boys and the girls, and Superbad is just so hardcore male perspective, like most other Apatow productions. I've talked to a few women who said some variation of "I just didn't get half the dick jokes. I guess cus I don't have one."

Even in the male-centered "Ferris Bueller", Hughes gave depth to Mia Sara and Jennifer Grey's characters, and in "Sixteen Candles", he's just as concerned with Jake Ryan and the nerd as he is with Samantha.

I know Apatow & Co. can write great females (Hello, Freaks and Geeks!), but their movies haven't been showing it.

Guy said...

I also really dug Superbad. Jonah Hill's character reminded me of a combo of about 3 friends I had growing up, fat, obnoxious, hilarious, trouble makers. Those guys were great friends, but my mom hated them :)

Piper said...


Good point and one I hadn't thought of it which is a bit surprising since Superbad is literally filled with dick jokes. I guess it didn't hit me because I have seen it with two different groups of people and women being in both and all the women loved it so it never dawned on me. But you're right.

I would say that Keener's role in 40 Year Old Virgin is pretty strong and I thought Heigel's character wasn't too bad.

Ray said...

I would say that "Sixteen Candles" could play today, even though some of the clothing/slang is a bit eighties. The reason why it would still work is because the film might have one of the most quotable screenplays of all time, and it is impeccably performed and edited.

"Superbad" is definitely the funniest film of the year, but I thought the cop stuff was a little contrived in a film that hinges closer to reality than "Sixteen Candles." Most of that is too damn cute and obviously stupid.

But I cannot give enough raves to the three young leads in the center of this film. Damn they are note perfect.

Burbanked said...

I had a friend in high school who used to refer to Hughes as "the Bard of our generation". To this day I don't know if he made that up or cribbed it from someone else, but it was a pretty decent description of how Hughes' movies spoke to us at that point in time.

That friend is no longer in my life, and neither is Hughes. I suppose that's fitting because it feels like those movies don't get made anymore.

I haven't seen Superbad, so it's hard for me to compare - but I really appreciate the parallels you've suggested here, Piper. Hughes movies truly resonate with me and my sense of who I was and what I was going through when I saw them, so I'm utterly intrigued to see if Superbad can recreate some of those feelings. I thought Knocked Up was very, very good and some of its ideas about married life and the commitment of building families were painfully funny to see unfold. Apatow and the summer stock theater of actors and writers he's built have done a pretty impressive job at tapping into our collective experience - like Hughes - as well as being wildly funny and entertaining.

I might disagree a little with Doc above; with the exception of Sixteen Candles, I think that Hughes' movies - as influential as they are - are all heavily male-centric. They may not be as crudely expressed in a male way like Apatow's material, but they are very much weighted to a guy's perspective. I can't think of a single woman I know now or growing up who holds Hughes' films in as high a regard as my male friends or I do.

Doc said...

Burbanked, he wrote Pretty in Pink, too! You don't know any women who loved that one?

This is all pretty much anecdotal evidence anyways. I don't mean to make a broad generalization about all of Apatow & Co.'s female characters, but I do wish that got to partake in the kind of goofiness the guys do. Catherine Keener got a few opportunities in Virgin, I suppose...

Burbanked said...

True enough, Doc. I wasn't thinking about Pink, but that's a good example.

Piper said...

Sorry Doc,

I'm going to have to go with Burbanked here because I think he's right.

Pretty In Pink as exception (and Hughes didn't even direct it) I think (and of course there is no scientific evidence here but we are all speaking on what we think) that more males hold Hughes' movies in high regard. I agree with you Doc that he certainly writes more for females but in my personal experiences it is males that seem to love his movies most. And if women do, they certainly are quiet about it.

Ray said...

"Pretty In Pink" was certainly marketed as a chick flick, but probably half of the film deals with the Ducky / Andrew McCarthy "what makes a real man" conundrum. The rest of the film presents Molly Ringwald as an object of teenaged male desire.

And she certainly had my attention.

Hughes and his films are a precious but lost art form. He had a magical run for a while, and I truly miss his voice.

Moviezzz said...

Piper, have you seen the new CSI ad? I just saw it. They are, for some reason, using "This Woman's Work" in the promos.

I know when I think of shows about crime scene investigators, I always think of Kate Bush.

I'm also a big fan of the song in BABY, used extremely well. And I love the ending theme of BABY, as well as the whole closing credits sequence (which is an 80's time capsule of sorts, even has a Bueller cameo). I think that is the only Hughes film that I own the soundtrack to.

As for Hughes, have you heard his commentary for the BUELLER DVD? One of the dullest ever recorded. It actually makes me like the film less.

He no longer has any sense of humor. I think that is why he has disappeared. I may have to do a "What Ever Happened To" story on him one of these days.