Monday, April 6, 2009

Movie Review: Adventureland

Adventureland *** ½
Directed By:
Greg Mottola.
Written By: Greg Mottola.
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg (James Brennan), Kristen Stewart (Em Lewin), Martin Starr (Joel), Bill Hader (Bobby), Kristen Wiig (Paulette), Ryan Reynolds (Mike Connell), Margarita Levieva (Lisa P), Jack Gilpin (Mr. Brennan), Wendie Malick (Mrs. Brennan), Matt Bush (Tommy Frigo).

Who among us hasn’t had a job that we consider beneath us? While in high school or university, we have all had those mind numbing, pointless minimum wage jobs that failed to stimulate us on any intellectual level. When you’re in university, that’s when you’re full of these great ideas and illusions about your future career. And that’s when you have to work those jobs you hate. The only good thing about those jobs is that you often meet people in the same boat as you – together you forge a bond to hate the job together.

That is essentially what Adventureland is about. James (Jesse Eisenberg) has just graduated university, and was planning on spending the summer backpacking through Europe before heading to Graduate school at Columbia in the fall. But his dad gets demoted, and they have no money, so instead, he ends up taking a job at Adventureland amusement park. At Adventureland there are two types of people – Rides People and Games People. The Rides People are the glamorous ones, so of course, James ends up as a Games person. Why? Because his boss Bobby (Bill Hader) got that Games Application out first.

The job is soul sucking. He basically sits around all day administrating games that are rigged so the customer can never actually win the giant panda they all want so badly. The only bright spots are the people he works with. He finds a kindred spirit in Joel (Martin Starr), who hates it all much more than James does, because after all, this isn’t his first summer there. There’s Connell (Ryan Reynolds), the maintenance man who is the essence of cool – he once jammed with Lou Reed! And then there’s two girls who are drawn to James. There’s Em (Kristen Stewart), who is pretty and smart and funny, and perhaps unavailable. And there’s Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva), who isn’t very smart or funny, but gorgeous, and available. The promise of what James will get from each is written right on their shirts. Em’s says “Games, Games, Game”, Lisa’s “Rides, Rides, Rides”.

From the previews, you’d think that Adventureland is another Superbad – they certainly do play up the comedy of the movie, and the fact that both films are directed by the same guy – Greg Mottola. But other than the fact that both are comedies about young men, the two movies share very little in common. Yes, Adventureland has some laugh out loud moments – many involving Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as the couple who runs Adventureland. They are one of those couples who seem like complete opposites, but somehow complement each other perfectly. They are equally disturbed, but somehow they balance each other out. But most of the movie is made up of a more knowing, intimate, character driven humor. The film reminded me of Freaks and Geeks, one of the best TV shows of all time, which based its humor more on the pain of growing up then on anything else. The movie isn’t a series of comic misadventures, but rather a document of a long, confusing, painful summer, where sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying. If this makes the movie sound dark, that’s unintentional – it isn’t – but I have a feeling that most people are going to see a little bit of themselves in these characters.

The acting is uniformly excellent, which in a movie like this is crucial. Jesse Eisenberg maybe a poor man’s Michael Cera, yet in a movie like this, he may be a better choice. With Cera you always have his comic persona getting in the way of a real character, whereas with Eisenberg, he feels a little more real – like his dialogue is more than just a series of punch lines. Kristen Stewart has grown into a gifted actress, and she makes Em into a complete, complicated, confused young woman. Ryan Reynolds is very good as that older guy who always seems to be hanging out with the young kids well past the point where he should. And Martin Starr makes Joel into a sympathetic character – one who tries too hard to fit in, and finally just gives up.

Adventureland will not be as popular a movie as Superbad was. It is a little too serious for that. But what both movies share is a knowledge of what young people are actually like, and the desires that drive them to do what they do. Superbad worked because each and every joke was based on the characters, and was hilarious, not because it was overly realistic. Adventureland works because it captures that spirit of fun and pain that accompany growing up just about right. The movies couldn’t be more different – but they are about equal in terms of quality.

No comments:

Post a Comment