'Superbad' a raunchy romp through adolescence

Adolescence. A time like no other. Physical and emotional changes come into play that can transform a placid 11-year-old into someone else, a stranger on the cusp of becoming a young adult. It can be a painful and unsettling process for all concerned, fraught with moody and frenetic behavior that can ebb and flow, in tandem with brief flashbacks to that child that once was but never will be again.

With few exceptions, it's a harrowing journey &

hormones rage, parents shake their heads, and uncertainty defines at least part of every day.

It can also be described as a time when life is lived with an incandescent intensity that is never again duplicated. Perhaps that's why it's etched in memory with a clarity that can be startling, and often the source of nostalgia, delight and haunting regret. Wisdom, confidence, sense of self &

all can be obscured by a self-absorption born out of painful insecurity and a crisis of identity. Insight will come later, with maturity and life experience. But for now, as a teenager, good grief.

Writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have mined this period to wonderful effect in "Superbad," a film that could have been the precursor to "Knocked Up." However, while both have characters so exaggerated they slip into caricature, what distinguishes "Superbad" is that it possesses a core of honesty and adolescent verisimilitude that is sustained throughout, even when it slides into the absurd.

The three high school friends &

Seth, Fogel, and Evan &

are not that familiar band of bulky high school brothers who exude an unshakable confidence and rule the field of play as well as school government. Nor are they members of that fraternity who walk through the hallways like gladiators, secure in their place, masters of their universe.

Instead, these three are part of that quirky high school subculture which exists on the frayed edges of any high school population: dorky, geeky and awkward to a fault, often the butt of jokes, or, worse, simply ignored. For them, going to school can be the source of daily pain, where life is fraught with miscues and self doubt. But then, good comedy often has at its center recognizable pain and failed expectations. In a farce such as "Superbad," the improbable situations &

blended with a patois of sexual innuendo &

are rampant, yet seem but a patina camouflaging an abiding adolescent angst.

The great irony &

yet to be realized or understood by these ill-formed boys-to-men &

is that one day they will stride across the landscape, masters of a redefined universe, while more than a few of the high school in-crowd will still be driving by their alma mater, long after graduation, grieving for a time now gone and never will be again. If that truth were told to these three, who have always stood outside the tent, it likely would be greeted with profound skepticism. Nothing life has shown them thus far would telegraph such a reality.

Of course, the language in "Superbad" is atrocious. Crude, outrageous and honest. It's as if every youthful male fantasy has been chronicled and then embedded in the screenplay, no holds barred. These squirrely, girl-obsessed, frantic-to-hook-up boys have spent their high school years (they're now seniors and graduation is but two months away) watching young women from afar, objects of their abstract desire. A desire that floods their every waking moment.

There are few rites of passage in our culture for adolescents eager to enter young adulthood, especially for males. Getting a driver's license is perhaps one. For Seth, Evan and Fogel, a sexual conquest is the other, their Everest in effect. They're at base camp, with only urban legends about the opposite sex to fall back on, the tales of their brief encounters (mere ricochets, really) embellished to the point of being unrecognizable.

"Superbad" is about one singular night, reminiscent, in an extreme way, of George Lucas' classic, "American Graffiti." Seth receives an unexpected invitation to attend a super cool party, the only condition being that he has to buy and bring the alcohol. He agrees, though he hasn't a clue where and how. Hence his first task is to get a fake I.D. Showing up with bags of booze is their pass into the world of cool kids. Before the curtain falls and high school ends, the three have a chance to step out of the stands and onto the stage, which of course brings out every niggling, twitchy insecurity possessed by the trio.

Jonah Hill, Michael Cera and Christopher Mintz-Plasse are perfectly cast, straight out of Nerds R Us. They also portray decent guys who are caring and loyal. Young men who, in all of their naivet&

233;, embrace the idea that if they are acknowledged by this crowd they will have reached the summit, and for at least this one night, breathed the rarefied air of that intangible known as being "popular." All while the pulsating hip hop-rap-heavy metal music and clinking of sudsy beer bottles surrounds them and nubile females wander by. They've arrived.

Or have they? All of it suddenly seems ephemeral, misty fog in the wind, and, to their surprise, they discover that there is far more substance to be found in their friendship than they ever imagined. Ah, adolescence.

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