Is “Superbad” Supergay?

If you watch TV commercials at all, you’re probably already familiar with Superbad’s super simple plot, but just in case you’re not, it concerns a group of nerdy high school students who are invited to the first cool party of their lives. But the only way they can go to the bash (at least with any dignity) is to buy booze for everyone, which presents a challenge as they are underage. What then follows are wacky, raunchy hijinks as Seth (Jonah Hill), Evan (Michael Cera) and Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) attempt to score the liquor and make it to the party in one piece.

But there is something more to the movie in the character of Seth, a young teen whose sexuality just might be in doubt. At first glance, he seems to be as straight as they come. He’s into Internet porn, he has a crush on a girl, and he even pretends to have sex with her during home economics class (though she doesn’t notice).

But there are numerous of clues which lead one to believe Seth just might be queer and confused. Taken alone, these clues may not mean much, but add them up, and an interesting picture starts to emerge.

First off, Seth admits that as a child, he liked to draw penises. He didn’t just draw one or two; he was obsessed with them. That penis obsession remains with him today, so much so that he can’t watch Internet porn that doesn’t have penises in it. (“Have you ever seen a vagina by itself?” he asks Evan. “Not for me.”) Seth also says that looking into a certain boys’ eyes is as beautiful an experience as listening to the Beatles.

Other clues are even more telling: Seth is jealous his friend will be rooming with Fogell next year at college. In fact, jealous is too weak of a word. Seth acts like a lover scorned. Seth is also upset Evan is preparing to have intercourse with a girl when that was not part of their “plan.” (The plan seems to be to only have oral sex, leading one to think that Seth doesn’t see oral sex as being the intimate act intercourse is. Just like Bill Clinton.)

Seth even declares his love for Evan in a scene that’s more than a bit reminiscent of Brokeback Mountain. While Seth is drunk at the time, in this case, the alcohol seems like truth serum. And let’s also not forget the scene in which Seth lovingly carries his best friend in his arms.

By the end of the film, the audience gets the feeling — especially in the final ambivalent scene — that Seth doesn’t connect with the girl he is chasing even half as much as he does with Evan. It’s somewhat frustrating because you keep waiting for Seth to realize the obvious, but he never does. Not only that, but his behavior is never really defined by the filmmakers as gay, or at the very least, as the behavior of a teen who is questioning his sexuality.

So while queer viewers might read Seth as gay or confused, the rest of the audience will likely not. Because of this, Superbad reminds me of one of those films in the pre-Stonewall era where the gayness was strongly suggested but never talked about.

Yet strangely enough, that may be a good thing. Even though we live in the post-Brokeback Mountain age, it's still hard for a gay film to get mainstream distribution. Superbad's dancing around the queer issue at least ensures the film gets seen by the mainstream, whereas if Seth were actually gay, Superbad would probably be playing in little art houses or his role would be significantly smaller. Maybe if the world gets a little more gay-friendly in the next few years, Seth can get himself a nice boyfriend in the sequel.

It is also a positive step forward that nobody ever makes fun of Seth for his gay-ish behavior (especially when these teens make fun of each other for everything else). Perhaps it's a tad optimistic, but maybe Superbad could even help real-life teens be more sensitive to guys who are gay, or guys who are straight but don't fit into the traditional heterosexual stereotype.

But was Seth himself ever meant to be viewed as gay in the first place? Probably not as he's supposedly based on Seth Rogen, the straight star of Knocked Up who co-wrote Superbad.

Regardless though, if Seth were actually gay he would be one of the more realistic gay characters to grace recent cinema. Think about it: Many teens who are gay don't realize it right away. Or if they do realize it, they may not talk about it because they're frightened of prejudice or have yet to deal with their own homophobia (or both). Many also try to act super-heterosexual, just as Seth does, to cover up their real feelings.

While Seth is the only character who seems gay, it's interesting to note how Fogell (who could have easily been made into a stereotypical gay character himself but was not) strongly bonds with the two cops (played by Rogen and Bill Hader) who question him after a robbery. This bonding isn't sexual in any way, but it is quite emotional as is the relationship between the two cops, who seem very much like an old married couple.

You could accuse me of looking too deeply at this film for hints of queerness, except that I am not the only one noticing the gay subtext. The Hollywood Reporter's Stephen Farber said that “the friendship of Seth and Evan has homoerotic undertones…. But because this is an American movie, don't expect the frankness of Alfonso Cuaron's Y Tu Mama Tambien, which took the close friendship of two horny teenage pals to its logical conclusion.”

Victoria Alexander of FilmsinReview.com notes that “there is no denying the homoeroticism in Superbad. If this was a 40s movie, the fade-out after Seth and Evan cuddle together in their sleeping bags, would mean only one thing. And their awkwardness in the morning confirms it! Well, at least it did for me.”

Time's critic Richard Corliss even went so far as to call the film a bro-mance and asked (although I'm sure he did so with tongue at least partially in cheek) why Apatow and Rogen don't “just do the honorable thing and tell the world they're gay? It would save them a lot of time wasted pretending their movies are about young men growing up and finding the right young woman. … In Superbad … the quasi-gay subtext is so obvious, it's the love that dares to shriek its name.”

Ultimately, Superbad is about guys bonding with guys in platonic ways rather than romantically. Nonetheless, it is worth at least one viewing by queer cinema fans, gay teens, and their potential allies.