If you’ve seen the trailer and commercials for Adventureland you may very well walk in expecting something like Superbad. Although the film contains some similar humor there’s so much more worth savoring including great moments, both large and small, and the type of love story women will enjoy and guys won’t need to be shackled to the seat to watch. After a single viewing I’m not prepared to call Adventureland a great film, but it is a damn good movie with a little something for everyone.
Jesse Eisengerg (think a less twitchy Michael Cera) stars as James Brennan who is forced to take a job at a local amusement park when his summer plans fall through.
As you would expect the park is filled with characters including his cock-punching best friend from kindergarten (Matt Bush), the sardonic Joel (Martin Starr), the cool older dude (Ryan Reynolds), the beautiful aloof dancer (Margarita Levieva), the wacky couple who run the joint (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig), and, most importantly, the enchanting yet troubled Em (Kristen Stewart).
Anywhere else this group of misfits might seem a bit too odd, but for carnies they work just fine. Writer/director Greg Mottola based the characters and story based on his own experiences working in an amusement park in the late 1980’s. Although there’s plenty of humor and zaniness here Mottola takes his time to make sure each character, no matter how odd, still comes off as a real person you might very well meet while waiting in line for the roller coaster. And that makes all the difference.
I’d like Mottola to sit Kate Hudson, Mandy Moore, Katherine Heigl, and the writers for their recent films, down and show them how you can make a romantic comedy that doesn’t feel forced, contrived, or insipid. Although Adventureland has many of the expected beats for a romcom, Mottola spends time and care making each feel natural and focusing on giving a reason for an important moment rather than forcing inflated moments upon us.
Aside from the quantity of blending several different tones from slapstick comedy to real drama, Adventureland is just as focused on providing quality moments that stay with you long after the film ends. The movie isn’t afraid to let it’s characters be awkward, flawed, passionate, screwed-up, and unsure. The film is filled with some great dialogue, but it generously allows its characters be silent and allows us to watch them thinking, struggling, and working through the events which they are presented with.
To help fill the silences Mottola has filled the music of the time without being cliche. You’ll recognize the tunes, but don’t expect the I Love the 80’s soundtrack of prepackaged hits. Instead what were given is a collection of music someone of the period might be listening too, rather than the best hits they might think back on twenty or thirty years later. Much like the rest of the film, Mottola gives the music his own little twist giving you what you’ll enjoy, but not always what you’ll expect.
I’ve gotten this far without discussing the cast. Kristen Stewart is quickly becoming one of my favorite young actresses working today, even if her choices in films isn’t always the best. Although the story is presented from Eisenberg’s character it doesn’t work unless he, and the audience, fall for Em, who is more than a bit of a train wreck. Eisenberg provides the innocence of the film and Stewart provides its heart. Together they are one of the best teen movie couples I’ve seen in quite some time.
The rest of the cast is chosen mostly for their comic timing. Martin Starr steals many moments, including providing the film’s best line as he describes Adventureland workers to James. And Hader, Wiig, and Bush provide the more obvious humor, though Levieva’s ensembles get some of the biggest laughs (thankfully she’s the only character they let go “full 80’s”).
It’s strange because from the marketing you would think this film would be what Nick & Nora’s Infinite Playlist turned out to be: an overly-contrived cobbled-together madcap adventure that also had a love story, but the film is actually what Nick & Norah wanted to be, a romantic comedy benchmark for a new generation. It’s nice to get more than you expected from a film, especially in the dead pre-summer months when trying to find a good film is akin to winning the lottery.
Those wanting the outlandish humor of Superbad or American Pie will get cock-punches, vomiting, and an 80’s dance club. On top of that however you’ll get an engaging love story with characters you’ll root to get together instead of wanting to kill (*cough* 27 Dresses *cough*). Although none of these moments provide huge laughs, the film is filled with memorable moments, several quotable lines, strong believable characters, and a highly enjoyable story. Unless they’ve still got some Oscar holdovers I’m betting Adventureland is the best thing showing at your local theater. Since it didn’t get the huge release you’d expect (or it deserves) you may have to search for it, but it’s definitely worth the time.