Movie Review – Adventureland
– Summary –
Director : Greg Mottola
Year Of Release : 2009
Principal Cast : Kristen Stewart, Jesse Eisenberg, Ryan Reynolds, Martin Starr, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig.
Approx Running Time : 90 Minutes
Synopsis: A young man gets a job working in an amusement park when his parents can no longer afford to send him to college. While there, he meets a girl, falls for her, and then finds his heart broken. Coming of age story….
What we think : While Adventureland had a dreadful marketing strategy here in Australia, it’s actually a pretty decent little film, of nothing overly remarkable. A solid effort.
I thoroughly enjoyed Adventureland. There, I’ve blown my critiquing wad early. I’m not normally inclined to enjoy modern teen-angst films, especially realistic ones which don’t involve vacuous crudity (American Pie) and annoying cliché characters throughout (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), but I found that Adventureland is a sweet natured, spot-on dramatic film with plenty to like. Charming performances from leads Eisenberg and Stewart, as well as great support from the second-tier cast, afford Adventureland a great life in future word-of-mouth success, because it’s a genuinely decent story. For those of you who’ve ever worked a dead-end job, minimum wage, found yourself attracted to the “wrong” girl, or been sucker punched in the balls by a friend, then you’ll find something to identify with in this film.
James Brennan (Eisenberg) is disappointed. His dreams of attending University are dashed by the economic downturn in the late 80’s, and instead of going to college he’s forced to look for work. The only job going is a minimum wage one at a local amusement park, the titular Adventureland, where he spends his summer conning folks out of their money for the amusement of his stickler boss. So when he meets fellow low-level employee Em (Kristen Stewart) and strikes up a relationship, it looks like the job might just pay off. The problem for James, however, which he’s unaware of, is that Em is sleeping with the park’s mechanic/janitor, Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds), a much older married man who’s legendary tale of playing with Lou Reed allows him a certain air of mystery. James’s co-worker Joel (Martin Starr) also has an unrequited crush on Em, which leaves plenty of room for crossed messages, stuttering vows of allegiance and some uncomfortable moments of realization. Throw in local bimbo Lisa P (Margarita Levieva) as a secondary romance for James, and some family issues for both main leads, and you’ve set the stage for a moving, heartfelt love-letter to a rapidly diminishing age of innocence in small-town America.
While the success of the Twilight franchise has catapulted Kristen Stewart to the top of the Hollywood A-list, those films never really stretch her as an actress. Stewart is often awkwardly Lolita-ish in Adventureland, a mix of sultry sex siren and waspish ingenue, and her brooding acting style (enhanced by dealing with Edward and Jacob) suits this material perfectly. Em is the most broken of all characters in this film, and her arc is perhaps the strongest of them all. James, dealing with parents and work pressures (and the consequences of being a teenager) has the most interesting story, as he interacts with his colleagues and friends, essentially narrating the story for us through his actions. As a pivotal character, he’s flawed like the rest of us, as he so ably shows when smashing the family car into a tree while drunk after a night out. He’s finding himself, discovering what life is all about: you know, the usual. Eisenberg imbues James with an innocence inherent in his virginal character; his “everyman” character isn’t the hottest, the tallest, the most muscular, but he’s got something his co-workers don’t – a personality worth liking. The frustration at finding Em is involved with an older, more worldy man in Connell, is palpable, although his eventual cross-country trip to get back his true love is a little out of character with the rest of the films’ more earthy, gritty overtones. Bill Heder and Kristen Wiig have a ball as the weird managers of Adventureland, their crazy antics bringing a welcome sense of humor to what could otherwise be quite a dark film.
Director Greg Mottola (whose oeuvre includes Superbad) has produced a moody, smartly scripted film, containing little fat and plenty to say about young love. The heartbreak, the loneliness and perceived injustices we all suffer at the hands of love, all come rushing out in Adventureland. It’s hardly ground-breaking stuff, but it is universal to each of us in some way. There’s a melancholy to Adventureland, a nostalgic sense of the realistic in Mottola’s screenplay and direction, which doesn’t pander to the viewers lack of intelligence by dumbing down. As each revelation of the story is revealed, it’s underplayed by Mottola, his editing and camerawork steady and restrained. It’s refreshing to watch a film of this type without having the traditional sex-romp mentality shoved in our faces (are you watching this Mr Apatow?) at every second: we do get some urine on a window, but that’s as bad as it gets.
Adventureland doesn’t immediately leap out at you as a must-see film, which is a shame, since it’s a wonderfully made piece of dramatic film-making. you could do a lot worse than hiring this movie from the local rental, so if you’re stuck for a choice and have some discerning friends over who aren’t appealed by Michael Bay’s latest, then give Adventureland a shot.
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