Cheerfully outrageous and unabashedly offensive, this saga of three high school seniors in search of sex and liquor works because the vulgarity is in the context of a very sweet story about growing up and leaving home. It centers on the themes and people from the previous work by Judd Apatow (who produced) and Seth Rogan (co-screenwriter).
Once again we have immature boy-men who are hungry for sex but afraid of women. This time, at least, the immature boy-men have an excuse — they are still in high school. It’s not arrested development. It’s just development. But just as the sweetest relationship in Apatow’s last film, “Knocked Up,” was between two men, the tender love story at the heart of this saga is between two friends, Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera). They discover, like Dorothy, that what they have been looking for was at home all along.
Some of what they were looking for, anyway. This being high school, they are also looking to have as much sex as possible as soon as possible, and if they cannot actually have it, they are interested in talking about it as much as possible. And most of the movie’s heart and humor comes from the combination of their obsessive fixation, explicit descriptions, and — this is a key point — endearing cluelessness. It is clear that their almost Tourette-ish stream of endless obscenities, vivid and imaginative as they are, are really less an expression of their actual interests and intentions than they are a sort of terrified incantation to ward off their greatest fears: humiliation, incompetence, powerlessness, being laughed at.
And of course on this fateful evening, they will find all of that and more. And they will also learn the crucial life lesson that it is actually not nearly as scary as they thought it was. And that they can survive some very humiliating moments.
It begins when Seth and Evan manage to get invited to a party. The hostess is Jules (Emma Stone), and Seth hopes he can get her drunk enough to be willing to have sex with him. Also at the party Becca (Martha MacIsaac). Evan is hoping he can get up the nerve to tell her he likes her. Both girls are thrilled that the boys are going to bring liquor and the boys are convinced that it is completing this task that will demonstrate their worth and their fitness or love or at least for sex. For this, they need the help of a friend named Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who has a new fake ID in the name of McLovin. Yes, just McLovin.
And so begins an odyssey of a kind, as the boys try to buy the booze, get to the party, and make some progress with the girls. Like any epic journey, there are detours, in this case involving some peeks into what in this movie’s concept qualify as the adult world. “McLovin’s” liquor purchase is interrupted by a robbery that leads to the appearance of a couple of cops (co-screenwriter Seth Rogan and “Saturday Night Live’s” Bill Hader), who are every bit as immature and even more irresponsible than the boys are. They take Fogell on a ride with side-trips to a bar and an adult party. Seth and Evan have also ended up at that party, still on their quest to get liquor for Jules and Becca. At first, they are excited to get a chance to see how grown-ups behave and it seems to them that it is everything they had hoped. But then various disgusting and scary things happen and, as in most of the Judd Apatow oeuvre, they respond to the adult world like ground-hogs on a sunny day and burrow back into their cozy underground sanctuaries. After all their adventures, Seth and Evan end up, as they have on weekend nights since grade school, sharing a couple of sleeping bags and talking to each other.
Parents should know that this is a very raunchy movie with constant and extremely explicit and crude sexual references and material that would probably get an NC-17 rating if not in a comedy. Teen-aged characters use extremely vulgar language, lie, get a fake ID to buy liquor, drink, smoke, get into fights, and shoot a gun. Characters get high on drugs and alcohol. There are non-explicit sexual situations. Parents should understand that while the movie is exceptionally vulgar and intended to be outrageous and provocative, its ultimate message about sexual behavior is one they can support. SPOILER ALERT: both of the lead characters end up not having sex. While Becca is more than willing, Evan recognizes that it would be wrong to take advantage of her when she is drunk and that it would be unlikely to be satisfying for him as well. And Seth learns that while Jules wanted to serve her guests liquor, she does not drink, and does not need to be drunk to be interested in him.
Families who see this movie should talk about what Seth and Evan are right and wrong about when they talk about girls and why it was hard for them to admit how they felt about each other. They may also want to have a talk about the issues of fake IDs, underage drinking, and some of the other high-risk and foolish behavior in the film.
Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy American Graffiti, Dazed & Confused, Can’t Hardly Wait, and the very raunchy American Pie series.