The MPAA tag explaining the R rating it gave to Superbad is almost hilarious in its exhaustiveness. (It’s also one of the longest I’ve ever seen.) “Rated R,” it says, “for pervasive crude and sexual content, strong language, drinking, some drug use and a fantasy/comic violent image – all involving teens.” I imagine those last three words italicized and written in boldface, though the MPAA doesn’t actually do it that way. They seem written to be spoken aloud with a sudden exhaling of breath, or through gritted teeth, as if in a last-ditch effort to dissuade anybody’s mom or dad from accompanying them to a screening of Superbad. Won’t somebody think of the teens?
Not so many years ago, Clerks was threatened with an NC-17 because somebody at CARA thought one scene contained too much talk about blow jobs. But that film’s dick-sucking diatribe seems downright quaint compared to the awesome sustained vulgarity of Superbad, which opens with star Jonah Hill discussing a (fictional?) online porn site called “Vag-tastic Voyage” and ends with a lengthy (and, amusingly, kind of disturbing) cartoon-penis montage. However, the MPAA ratings board seems to have gotten tired of hearing how repressive it is, and has gone into a sort of crouched, defensive position, giving a rating to stuff like Hostel 2 (“rated R for sadistic scenes of torture and bloody violence, terror, nudity, sexual content, language and” — wait for it! — “some drug content”) with a wrinkled nose and a sigh.
Summer counterprogramming comes through in a fairly big way with Knocked Up, the follow-up to writer/director Judd Apatow’s sweet, sensible and hilarious The 40 Year-Old Virgin. Steve Carell was charmingly awkward in that movie, but Knocked Up star Seth Rogan is more goofy, with the unassuming smile of a gentle doofus plastered across his face for the film’s duration. Somehow this big lug stumbles into a one-night stand with inebriated TV personality Katherine Heigl and, to the consternation of both parties, a baby is soon on the way. Apatow’s subject is the culture clash between Heigl’s orderly upper middle class lifestyle and Rogan’s Top Ramen digs. Will she accept him for who he is? Will he ever grow up and take responsibility for his actions? Of course they will—it’s Hollywood. The point is how they get there. Without Carell around, the new film doesn’t scale the same outrageous comic heights, but it’s still very funny, with the subjects of pregnancy and childbirth adding a new dimension to the ever-present sex comedy. And as crude as it is—earning its R rating with dirty jokes, raunchy dialogue, and a helping of stoner humor—its witty, family-values approach manages to avoid pandering.
It seems apropos, somehow, of current pop-culture attitudes thatThe 40 Year-Old Virgin, hyped as a raunchy R-rated alternative to PG-13 comedies, would have such a love/hate relationship with explicit material. On the one hand, it indulges a penchant for dialogue that’s occasionally vulgar (shit-stained balls indeed) and consistently profane (check out the string of swears ad-libbed by star and co-writer Steve Carell in his big did-my-own-stunts chest-waxing scene). On the other hand, its characters eventually evince a weird primness where actual visual depictions of sexuality are concerned. What’s that about?