What The F#%K Is SUPER BAD? And Why Did Moriarty Visit The Set?!
A few Fridays ago, I found myself standing on a neighborhood street corner in the heart of the San Fernando Valley at 11:30 at night, watching ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT’s Michael Cera run down the street, trying to escape two dumbfounded cops. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Once again, I got a call from someone on behalf of the preposterously cool Shauna Robertson. This is always a good thing, I’ve learned. Shauna is in the enviable position of being a producer who has found the perfect collaborators. And not just one or two, either. She’s built this round-robin entourage of talented, funny people who she seems to keep in constant orbit around her, in various configurations of collaboration, and the result is that she seems to be at ground zero for an unusually high percentage of the best comedies being made right now. I met her on the set of ELF for the first time, then saw her again on the set of ANCHORMAN. Again on THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN last year, as well as recently on KNOCKED UP. And each time, it was obvious that there’s an alchemy that frequently happens in her vicinity that leads to undeniably funny results. I think some of it is because so many of the actors in her films are guys, and they all sort of jockey for her attention. Shauna's one of those people you really want to make laugh. Something about her demands that you try and crack her up. This time, she sent me a copy of the script for a film called SUPER BAD and, tucked inside the envelope, a small piece of hard plastic that dropped out onto the floor when I opened it. I was surprised to see that it was a driver’s license from Hawaii with my face on it. It asserts that I am, indeed, 21 years old, and that my name is McLovin. No first name. Just... McLovin. I read the script in one sitting, in a little under an hour. It’s incredibly breezy, mostly consisting of conversation. Blistering, profane, hilarious conversation. SUPER BAD was written by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen. The two of them were co-writers for DA ALI G SHOW on HBO, and they’ve known each other since they were kids. They originally wrote SUPER BAD when they were in high school as a film for themselves to star in, and in a way, that’s exactly what the film feels like. It’s the story of two guys, Seth and Evan, as they near the end of high school and have to face the reality of whatever comes next. They’ve been friends since childhood, and a harsh reality is setting in: is going away to school in the fall and isn’t. For the first time since they became aware, basically, they’re going to go in different directions, and even if they can’t admit it to each other, it scares the shit out of both of them. The entire film takes place over the course of one long day and night, as Seth and Evan find themselves (A) both with an actual shot at getting laid by real-live girls (B) and in charge of bringing all the alcohol for a last-night-of-school party. Add into the mix their bizarre friend Fogell and deranged policemen Slater and Michaels, and what you’ve got is... well... I’m not sure yet, but I get the feeling it’s going to have a voice all its own. Sure, the basic idea is slight, but that’s a form of comedy that I really like, where it’s all about the riff, all about the way the various characters pinball off each other. At their very best, Cheech and Chong did this sort of thing really well. Obviously, HAROLD & KUMAR was a recent attempt at this sort of film that some people really liked. I’m not one of those people, but I can respect the attempt. This isn’t a John Hughes film. This isn’t aiming for the sort of Polaroid-accuracy of DAZED & CONFUSED or AMERICAN GRAFITTI. This is a decidedly R-rated comedy, concerned with making you laugh, plain and simple. So far, I haven’t mentioned the cast. The night I was there, I met five of the main cast members, and I watched them work together. It’s a young cast, and there’s not a movie star among them. Yet. They’ve all done some very funny work prior to now, though, and watching them together, and knowing what sort of script they’ve got to work with... I’m hoping for something special. And this is where Goldberg and Rogen (who executive produced the film as well) and Robertson and Judd Apatow really do seem to have a gift: casting. It’s not just about finding funny people; it’s about finding people who will make each other funnier when they work together. That’s what ANCHORMAN is. That’s what 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN is. That’s what I think KNOCKED UP is going to be. And I honestly believe that’s what SUPER BAD will be as well. Jonah Hill, for example, is funny. Say what you will about GRANDMA’S BOY or CLICK or ACCEPTED, but Jonah Hill is funny. He first made an impression as the eBay customer in Catherine Keener’s store in 40YOV, and I think it’s fitting he’s playing Seth in SUPER BAD. His inherent sense of timing with a liberal dose of skepticism about everyone and everything reminds me very much of Seth Rogen, who arrived fully formed when he first appeared on FREAKS & GEEKS. Michael Cera is also undeniably funny. If you watched ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, then you know how great he was as George Michael. He’s that kid who is constantly on the verge of crawling out of his own skin, uncomfortable even though he shouldn’t be. What I loved about Cera on ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT was his essential decency. No matter how awful or bizarre the rest of the characters on the show were, George Michael was always a recognizable human being that made it all somehow tolerable. Who else could have pulled off such a long-running and squirmy cousin-fucking joke with as much likeability? I don’t know Evan Goldberg well enough to say how close a fit Michael Cera is, but he’s right for the role the way it’s written. He’s the kid who is on his way, but he almost feels guilty about it. He knows that when he goes away to college, he’s going to change, and he knows that Seth isn’t going to change, and he’s self-aware enough to know what that means. Then there’s Fogell. As several people explained to me during my set visit, Christopher Mintz-Plasse is a brand-new actor. This is his first film. Fogell is a great supporting role, and based on watching how everyone was treating Chris on-set, it’s obvious they’re all impressed and entertained by him. Is he funny? I didn’t see enough of his work to say, but if this many genuinely funny people think he is... well, let’s just say I’m curious. Then you’ve got the two policemen who pursue Seth and Evan through their evening. Here’s where some of the strangest and most absurd stuff in the script comes from, and it’s also my favorite casting in the film. Officer Slater is played by SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE’s Bill Hader and Officer Michaels is played by Seth Rogen hisself. I used to be a SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE freak. There was a run of at least a decade where I never missed a new episode. In the last few years, I haven’t seen a lot of the show. That’s not meant as a slam, either. It’s just that the show’s such an institution that it’s not possible to be a fan for every phase of its existence. As a result of my only-occasional viewing habits regarding the show these days, I’m not as familiar with Bill Hader as I should be, something that I felt really bad about when I was introduced to Bill and he started talking to me about AICN, which he evidently reads. Bill strikes me as the real deal, an uber-geek who happens to be deadly funny. He’s got a real dry sense of humor in conversation, and several times while I was onset, I heard him sort of toss away lines, almost to himself, that were solid gold. I’ve written at length about how much I respect Seth Rogen’s work, and how much I admire his natural comic timing, so seeing him and Hader bouncing off each other in their scenes promises to be one of the best things about SUPER BAD when it’s released by Sony. So, anyway... remember that fake driver’s license they sent me, the one I mentioned back at the start of this article? It plays a key role in the movie. Fogell’s the one who gets the fake ID, and it’s the worst fake ID ever made: EVAN: “McLovin”? What kind of a stupid name is that? What are you trying to be, an Irish R&B singer? FOGELL: Well, the let you pick any name you want when you get there. SETH: So you picked McLovin? FOGELL: It was between that and Muhammad. SETH: Why was it between that and Muhammad? Why didn’t you just pick a common name? FOGELL: Actually, Seth, Muhammad is the most commonly used name on earth. Read a fucking book. EVAN: Have you ever actually met a guy named Muhhammad? FOGELL: Have you actually ever met a guy named McLovin? SETH: NO! That’s why you picked a bad name. EVAN: You probably have federal agents tracking you for even considering the name Muhhammad on a fake ID! Don’t you watch “24”? SETH: Look at this shit, man. You don’t even have a first name. It just says “NAME: MCLOVIN”. EVAN: One name? Whoa are you? Cher? FOGELL: McLovin sounds old, okay? And chicks’ll dig it. Are you kidding me? EVAN: Under what circumstances would you ever have to show a chick your ID? FOGELL: She could ask. Or, I could just show it to her. SETH: Holy shit. I don’t believe this. This says you’re fucking 25! Why didn’t you just put 21? FOGELL: I knew you would ask that. But listen, asshole, every day hundreds of kids go to the liquor store with fake IDs that say they’re twenty-one. Just how many twenty-one year olds are there in this town? It’s called strategy, okay? SETH: FOOL! Seth and Evan are especially stressed out about the potency of this fake ID because they have to get alcohol. They absolutely, positively have to get alcohol. See, Evan’s really into Becca, and Seth’s got a serious crush on Jules, and Jules is thinking of having a party, and she mentions it to Seth and he and Evan offer to bring alcohol and Evan invites Becca and the guys realize... this could be it. This could be that party. That night. Their night. They could get some tit. Or maybe even more. All they have to do is deliver on their promise and bring the alcohol. So they need Fogell and his awful fake ID. Things get complicated, of course. Evan and Seth get split from Fogell, and the cops get involved. Fogell actually gets picked up by Officers Slater and Michaels, and they seem to take a shine to McLovin. They end up driving him around in their cop car, with bags full of alcohol, and when they finally meet back up with Seth and Evan, it’s under less than ideal circumstances. That’s the scene I watched them filming on that late Friday night. The Encino location they were using was about twelve minutes away from my house, so it was an incredibly easy trip over. They were shooting in a real neighborhood, but I was really surprised by how unobtrusive they were. I’ve seen film companies take over neighborhoods to the frustration and justifiable anger of the people who really live there. Shauna pointed out other houses on the street for me. “That’s where we shot some stuff for 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN. At the end of the block, we did one day of stuff for ANCHORMAN. And we shot some of KNOCKED UP right over there.” I guess they’ve got a good relationship with the people on that street if everyone keeps renting their locations out to them. Seth and Evan have a lot of unspoken things, like any lifelong friends, and they finally have to say all the stuff that they’ve been avoiding. They go off on each other, and they actually start throwing a few swings. As they back into the street, Seth steps in front of the police car driven by Michaels and Slater, which happens to be out of control because of an ill-timed blast to the eyes from a flashlight. Seth goes down hard. Slater and Michaels panic. One of them actually moans, “Oh, this can’t be happening again.” All of this with Fogell in their back seat, listening to everything, a witness to just how godawful Michaels and Slater are at their job. I watched them filming from the moment the cops step out of the car, watched them trying different physical bits and different lines. Director Greg Mottola made the charming feature THE DAYTRIPPERS a full ten years ago, but since then, he’s been working on television comedy, like UNDECLARED and ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT and THE COMEBACK. I’m curious to see how he makes the jump back into features for the first time in a decade. He’s obviously already got a rapport with many of his actors in the film since he’s worked with them before, and that helps enormously on a film like this. As with all the sets I’ve been to for films that Shauna and Judd Apatow have been producing, there is a freedom to the way everyone works that is liberating, and it’s been accelerated here by the decision to shoot in HD using the Genesis camera, the same system used on SUPERMAN. This has allowed the actors to try some extended takes without worrying about how much film is left. It frees them up. It also allows them to see playback and see exactly what’s going to end up in the film. More and more, as I talk to people in every department and as I see the difference it makes in front of the camera and behind it, I am embracing the notion that our industry is going digital, and not just on giant event films, and not just in the hands of someone like Michael Mann. Shooting a comedy like this may not be radically cheaper than it would be shooting on film, but it does wonders for the actors, and that’s what really seems to matter. I watched as Rogen and Hader terrorized Cera and Hill, telling them to “GET ON THE GROUND! SPREAD YOUR SHIT!” in each take. Cera and Hill seem uncertain about exactly what spreading their shit entails, which only seems to frustrate Hader more and more. Hader’s one of those guys who is all quiet wry wit off-camera, but when the camera rolls, he seems to just switch on, and he’s suddenly much bigger, much more present. Watching this young cast work together, you can see the subtle games of one-upsmanship, the way they have developed a shorthand during shooting, and it’s pretty evident that they’ve clicked, that the friendships onscreen seem to have spilled offscreen as well. Cera spent his time between takes reading Zmuda’s book about Andy Kaufman, and every now and then, he’d burst out laughing about something Andy did. He couldn’t help sharing with whoever was near him at the time, and there were other conversations going on around him. Jody Hill, the director of THE FOOT FIST WAY, was also hanging out onset, talking with someone there about an upcoming project. In fact, they all seemed to be recruiting each other. “Okay, if I’m in this, then you should do this, and we’ll both do that guy’s film so he has to help with ours. Perfect.” And I love that. I love that all of these guys are busy creating, trying to turn out something funny, something that’s not a remake or a sequel. Look, this isn’t a reinvention of the wheel. It’s a high-school movie. Having said that, there’s an honesty to the language of SUPER BAD that I respect. It’s funny because it’s frank but it’s not gratuitous. This is the way kids talk now. Hell, it’s the way they’ve always talked. I’ll close by running another excerpt, this one a bit from the beginning of the script. This should immediately give you a sense of where this movie’s head is at: SETH: I was doing research last night, for next year, and I think I know which web-page I’m gonna subscribe to next year. The Vag-tastic Voyage. EVAN: Which one’s Vag-tastic Voyage? SETH: The one where they pick up the random girls on the street and take them in a van and bang ‘em. Thirteen bucks a month. And you get access to all these other sites, like, Latina, one’s Asian, fetishes for, like, feet and pee and shit like that, all for the price of Vag-tastic Voyage. EVAN: You are absolutely disgusting. You’re like an animal. SETH: Don’t make me weird because I like porn. You’re weird cause you don’t like porn. I’m normal as shit. EVAN: Peeing on people. That’s normal? SETH: I’m not saying I’m going to look at it. I’m saying it comes with it. Who knows what I’ll be into one day? EVAN: And I hate that amateur stuff. If I’m paying money, I want some production value; smooth editing, a good score, not some girls being coaxed into going on a vag-tastic voyage. SETH: I’m sorry that the Coen Brothers didn’t direct the porn I watch. And they say that romance is dead. As if. Thanks for the invite from Sony and Shauna Robertson. The film will be in theaters in 2007. Drew McWeeny, Los Angeles
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Nov. 21, 2006, 7:25 a.m. CST
now THAT sounds genius! maybe a remake of Bootylicious 14: Back dat Azz Up, with Dan Hedaya and John Goodman working over Frances McDormand.
Nov. 21, 2006, 7:25 a.m. CST
could just watch that
Nov. 21, 2006, 8 a.m. CST
by THE KNIGHT
Nov. 21, 2006, 8:26 a.m. CST
Bill fucking Hader is in it too. Wonderful. Cannot hate.
Nov. 21, 2006, 9:02 a.m. CST
eerily similar to the way I talk to my friends though...
Nov. 21, 2006, 9:05 a.m. CST
We already got a taste of Cohen Bros. porn...remember Logjammin from The Big Lebowski? I'd pay a lot of money to see that one, so long as Tara is still in it.
Nov. 21, 2006, 10:30 a.m. CST
yet I suppose the latter still applies.
Nov. 21, 2006, 10:57 a.m. CST
by MC Vamp
But I'll check it out if it's from the producers of "Virgin." Seriously though, the dialogue has a Dante/Randal quality to it that bugs me. Like Clerks Episode I: Senior Year.
Nov. 21, 2006, 11 a.m. CST
by eric haislar
This is fun and all but Robert Altman has died fuck!
Nov. 21, 2006, 11:11 a.m. CST
Gosh, I hope we haven't hurt his feelings with all the terrible things we post about SNL each week! No, really! <p> I'm looking forward to this one. Cera did a great job on AD, and that cousin-loving subplot was probably my favorite subplot of the show. Better than Tobias's Blue Man obsession, better than GOB's illusions, better than Lucille I or II, better than George Michael's girlfriend Ann, better than .... geez, I miss that show.
Nov. 21, 2006, 12:16 p.m. CST
damn, guess not. oh well, still sounds funny.
Nov. 21, 2006, 12:30 p.m. CST
by Nairb The Movie
This looks really, really, really, really bad...
Nov. 21, 2006, 3:08 p.m. CST
where the clone of Abraham Lincoln has to buy alcohol for Clone JFK's party, so he can impress and get with clone Cleopatra. But what he doesn't realize is the clone of Joan of Arc is right there for him! RIGHT THERE!
Nov. 21, 2006, 4:22 p.m. CST
he was classic on AD "what A fun sexy time for you"
Nov. 21, 2006, 4:22 p.m. CST
...what kind of a stupid name is that?
Nov. 21, 2006, 4:27 p.m. CST
If Hader does read the SNL posts, he'd probably be more pleased than upset, as we may insult the show, but we're always praising him and Wiig. ALWAYS.
Nov. 21, 2006, 8:41 p.m. CST
everyone's cracking each other up ("We had a great time filming!"), but it doesn't translate for the audience all that often. // And the word "hisself" is in the same dictionary with words like "brung" and "finna".
Nov. 21, 2006, 11:24 p.m. CST
I can't wait for this movie....Michael Cera in a role like this...can't wait
Nov. 21, 2006, 11:26 p.m. CST
I can't wait for this movie....Michael Cera in a role like this...show me a trailer or something!!
Nov. 21, 2006, 11:29 p.m. CST
Moriarty... This is fucking flagrant. You shoulkd be hanging out on Santa Monica and Highland.
Nov. 22, 2006, 3:48 a.m. CST
This is perhaps my favorite comedy script of all time. I'm concerned that 1) the studio forced them to infuse a lot of unnecessary bullshit that will ultimately make the movie more cookie cutter and soft -- last night of high school, the two guys are splitting up, etc. Blah blah that nonsense wasn't in there before. And 2) The dialogue above used to be better, now they've added a bunch of forced pop culture references ("24", webpages, Vag-tastic Voyage, Coean Brothers) that are just lame. Hope they haven't ruined this movie -- it had so much potential -- but I am concerned.
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