Becoming Jane & Superbad

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

            In the midst of summer mediocrity, movie lovers scratch through the weekly listings on the hunt for something good, or at least acceptable. As this terrible movie summer winds down, “Becoming Jane” and “Superbad” are lingering in theaters. If you like either one, you certainly won’t like the other.

            The films of Jane Austen’s novels have often been made with care and fidelity by people who know and love her books. That’s the big problem for a dead author, isn’t it – they either luck out or they don’t when their books are adapted for the screen. In “Becoming Jane,” the trouble starts when filmmakers decide to tinker with Austen’s imagination and to embellish her own real life. It is known that Austen did meet Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy), though apparently only twice. In this movie, the screenwriters imagine that love follows the meetings and tries its determined best to walk the thorny path through Victorian times. It’s that fictional journey that will make Austen lovers uncomfortable. Still, there are small delights to be had.

            Look forward to Maggie Smith’s arched and peerless delivery of lines such as, “I am never mistaken.” And also to the several appearances of phrases that will appear later in Austen’s novels. “Five girls of little fortune….” as well as the opening line of Pride and Prejudice. James McAvoy is a credible romantic suitor. Ann Hathaway, restrained in her performance, seems to understand she is treading on the delicate world of the mind in which Austen lived. It seems sometimes as if we should plant a sign that says, “Keep off this grass.”

            Should you see, “Superbad?” Only if you are likely to get a kick out of what the adolescent hormone wash does to awkward young boys who can’t bluff their way through puberty. There are some hearty laughs in the early scenes that play in the minds of these guys – who seem closer to 14 than to 18.

            Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen, and Evan Goldberg leave their unmistakable imprint of crudity born of a basic gentleness. As in “Knocked Up,” it is fun to watch a potentially decent human being swim through to the other side of adolescent cruelty, but a lot of this falls flat when it settles in drunken parties where the boys stumble through more vomit, drugs, and alcohol than they bargained for. The sweet guys overwhelmed by crude drunks can hold the screen for about two minutes. We’ve seen this part too many times before: self-loathing and braggadocio, abysmal shyness – all to be fixed by alcohol.

            Hill is a great big tub, Mintz-Plasse a bag of bones (with a superb fake I.D. in the name of McLovey), and Cera a dream package of awkward yearnings and kindness who will surely morph into the kind of adult man who walks through a girl’s dreams on screen and off. This is an adolescent gross out movie with a future star shining from the muck.

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