High school graduation is approaching. Two best friends want to go out with a bang, and, over the course of one day, prepare for, and try to get to, the biggest party in the neighbourhood. Once they reach the party, they realise the celebrations are not going as imagined, and they learn something about themselves during the night of partying. Two films may have come to mind when you read this paragraph: Booksmart (2019) and Superbad (2007). Both films are very similar in terms of premise and structure. However, there are key differences to these two hilarious comedies. Looking at these differences reveals how much comedies, and movies in general, have changed over the last twelve years.
Wilde’s debut film was clearly made in a movie context where the representation of women and female sexuality is much more common. The most notable difference between Mottola’s Superbad and Wilde’s film is that female characters are leading, instead of male characters. Booksmart is aiming to represent stories that are never really talked about in the teen comedy genre. Female sexuality finds greater representation in Wilde’s film. Masturbation, desires and orgasms are discussed with a candidness, as it smoothly weaves its way into the conversations of the two main characters. Men in this kind of film do this all the time. With regards to women, this has never really been depicted on screen.
To say that Booksmart is simply Superbad but with women does not do justice to the effortless way it incorporates a diverse range of characters. We discover that Amy (Dever), one of the main characters, is gay in such a natural way. It never defines her character; it is part of who she is as a person, and she is represented with the adorable awkwardness that is usually only reserved for the straight characters and their crushes. You never feel like the diversity has been tacked on in order to appeal to political views of this decade. All of the characters, whether gay, straight, black or white, are just allowed to be themselves. It is organic and brilliant to see on screen. Mottola’s Superbad, in comparison, is about three straight white guys. Their love interests are also white, and skinny too. Molly (Feldstein), in comparison, is overweight, but that never becomes a barrier. I don’t think it is ever mentioned or highlighted either. The world of Booksmart is much more inclusive, and chooses to represent stories that were previously underrepresented. This does not mean Superbad is an inferior film; however, it goes to show the rising prominence of diversity in cinema over the last twelve years.
The main characters are also motivated to party for completely different reasons. Molly and Amy have been workaholics throughout their time in high school, believing it is the only way to get into college. However, their peers managed to get into the same colleges despite partying every weekend. A wave of regret and a sense of waste overwhelms Molly, so she and Amy set out to cram four years of fun into a single evening. The characters in Superbad are obsessed with getting laid so that they have had an appropriate amount of practice in time for college. Booksmart is also a deconstruction and subversion of the familiar teen comedy film. The binary between jocks and nerds has been chucked out completely. Girls are no longer the prize waiting to be grabbed by the underdog male hero. Superbad’s protagonists are slackers who mock the high achievers like Fogell/McLovin. The high achievers are the protagonists of Booksmart. Whilst both films are hilarious, there is a greater maturity and complexity to the motivations of the main characters in Booksmart.
Further, the later film is much less reliant on brash, offensive humour. Following the Me Too movement, it is startling to hear the constant dick jokes, to hear Seth (Hill) speculating on whether a woman can “take a dick” or watch him get mocked after menstrual blood is accidentally rubbed on his leg. The humour of Superbad is from a world that does not exist anymore. Booksmart is still absolutely hilarious, but it never feels at the expense of a particular character, or mocking of a particular stereotype. Superbad has a truly iconic character who can still crack you up to this day in McLovin, something Booksmart is missing. This is not necessarily a bad thing though. Part of McLovin’s representation involves brutal mocking and shaming. Seth throws some shocking insults at him. Booksmart is funny without bordering on the line of bullying.
Humour has changed over the last twelve years. It was much more offensive and reliant on shock factor than it is today. Cinema has also changed. It has become more inclusive, and is representing underrepresented stories. Superbad reflects a world where the high school experience seemed to be defined by your average straight men. Whilst Superbad is still hilarious and some of its characters have reached iconic status, it is refreshing for Booksmart to show that other high school stories exist.