It's semi-common knowledge that I didn't "attend" "high school" in the usually meaningful sense of those words. It is true that I come from home-schooling,* but I cannot help it.

Because of this particular quirk, I'm not any sort of target audience member for high school movies, be they comedies or dramas or even (ick) slashers. That doesn't mean I don't like them, sometimes, just that I like them as I like the pre-WWII Japanese silent cinema or the Weimar avant-garde, a document of a society fundamentally alien to me.

Still, I know good filmmaking when I see it, and I'm also quite capable of responding to the emotional truths celebrated by societies fundamentally alien to me, and thus have I been found to regard films from American Graffiti to Dazed and Confused as something like masterpieces. It's no shame upon the new Apatow Collective project Superbad that it isn't quite up to those lofty standards; indeed, I mean it to be praise that Superbad is good enough to call those films to mind in the first place.

If I had gone to high school, I'd probably regard this as a marvelous evocation of those heady times at the end of things: two life-long best friends, Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) have a long day's journey into night when chance, or fate, puts them in the position of designated alcohol-gatherers for the two young women whom they have been quietly lusting after for what seems like ages. Of course nothing goes properly, and the afternoon and evening of their quest brings them from one misadventure to another. All comic of course; and all raunchy, or at least vulgar, thanks to Seth's apparently bottomless affection for the word "pussy."

(On the other hand, Superbad's nearly two hour running time contains less vulgarity and unspeakable obscenity than I've been known to unload during a single particularly competitive Mario Kart race, so it's best I not judge.)

There's a level on which this is surely a personal and true story for the writers, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (there's a whole mythology around the story's gestation for a decade that you can find anywhere on the internet, so I won't belabor it), but that's neither as obvious nor, frankly, as interesting as how the project fits into the burgeoning Judd Apatow house style, though his only role here was as producer. For good or ill, Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin hang heavy over Superbad, and while I'm sure a better, stronger critic would resist the urge to compare the three, I am weak, and I also enjoy finding patterns in arbitrary places. Now, director Greg Mottola, a veteran (like Michael Cera) of the thrice-renownéd Greatest TV Series Yt Shall Ever Be, Arrested Development, is certainly a fine craftsman, but his function as auteur of the present film is far less significant than Apatow's as producer, or the writers' or the actors' or the music supervisor's who came up with all of the '70s R&B tunes that give the project its peculiar feeling of contemporary nostalgia. It's a film whose every detail fixes it firmly in the mid-aughts, and yet it feels like a wildly anachronistic time capsule. This is, of course, a significant part of its off-kilter charm.

So, Apatowfilmsk: boys of all ages turning into men, via sex and/or sexuality, while the boys around them remain steadfast and unmaturing. Women are given the facsimiles of personality instead of actual personalities. The frank homoeroticism that underpins essentially all male-male interactions is shown in all its awkward glory.

Knocked Up and Virgin were both extraordinary comedies, so it's not terrible if Superbad is a little less so. Virgin remains the funniest by far of the three, thanks in no small measure to Steve Carell and Catherine Keener (bless them, but the Judd Apatow Stock Company are not the best "actors," qua acting) and Knocked Up - to my damn home-schooled eyes, anyway - is surely the most emotionally rich, for all its masculine-centricity. Where Superbad excels is in the depiction of male bond pairs - certainly not unexplored cinematic territory, but done very well here, and a stark contrast to Apatow's one-man shows.

Very much as it was the case with Knocked Up, I find myself reflecting not upon the hilarity (of which there is more than enough here), but upon how desperately sad so much of the film is behind the booze and boob jokes. At heart, it is a story of two intimately connected men whose friendship is not sexual, but is clearly shown (particularly in the decidedly tragic final trio of shots) to be more valuable than any sexual relationship, and how the process of growing up requires that relationship to end. I say "men" and "male," but I'm not certain that it's a particularly gendered theme - oh, without doubt the story is gendered, and in places it shades into the chauvinistic if not quite the misogynistic - rather than being something that we all undergo in big ways and small over and over again through life. People come and are important and then they aren't any more. In friendships as well as in sex, that truth never feels particularly nice, and it doesn't take a high-school mise en scène to explore that truth, that's just one of the places that it's most inevitable.

At this point I shall recite to myself a few times, "it's a comedy," and reiterate that I laughed hard and often, and often hard. It's as good a cast as you could hope for - Cera is, AND THIS IS A STATEMENT OF HARD FACT, the funniest actor under the age of 30 in America right now, but Hill holds his own, and the debuting Christopher Mintz-Plasse as their supremely geeky third wheel is nothing short of awe-inspiring in his symphonic performance of a one-note role. Bill Hader, who has been in things, and Seth Rogen himself are wonderful as the two worst cops in history. But these are all subjective things; comedy is damn near impossible to quantify.

It suffers, as did Apatow's films, from excessive running time, leading me to once again wish I was God and could make a rule that comedies can't be more than 100 minutes long, ever. And the specifics of the plot are familiar enough, and honestly, deterministic enough, that it's hard to be engaged with the story in the same way that Knocked Up worked as a relationship drama. Plus the girls, as written and played, pretty much suck as characters.

But whatever, it made me laugh, and it's the last gasp of the summer. And a fine summer film at that, unable to decide if it takes place in May or October (listen close for the line about pumpkins), but always full of the cool energy of a summer's day in those glorious years when summer meant freedom from work and responsibility. It's a diversion, and a damn smart one, and a damn funny one.