By Dan Mecca
If honesty is the best quality, Adventureland is the gem of the cinematic year so far. Written and directed by Greg Mottola (the guy who directed Superbad) this dramedy is a throwback in every way – from the setting of the film (summer 1987) to the laid-back comic delivery. There’s barely anything that can be defined as a joke in this thing.
For the most part, all the movie’s laughs are natural and observatory rather than fed and forced. This is not to say that the latter doesn’t work – see I Love You, Man for proof of this, a film that feeds jokes consistently with a natural rhythm that does not overwhelm.
Adventureland finds its comedy in situations, primarily for working young adults who still live with, or within proximity, of their parents. I.E. college-aged kids. For a film that so blatantly shines light on several awkward realisms (an unhide-able boner or a brutally silent late night car ride with the opposite sex), it’s a very comforting film to watch, much in the way the best John Hughes’ films (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club) are.
Viewers may feel nostalgia for events still occuring in their life. Jesse Eisenberg (The Squid and the Whale) stars as James, an idealistic romantic with dreams of a degree from Columbia Grad School and a career as a travel writer. Those dreams are dashed when James’ parents run out of money. Cue a shitty summer job at Adventureland, a local theme park (the film takes place in Pittsburgh).
Eisenberg certainly has the post-Woody Allen neuroces down pat, sitting somewhere in between the mannerisms of Michael Cera and the nerdy charm of Adam Brody, better know as Seth from The O.C. However, Eisenberg finds his own quirky beat to dance to, much like he did in The Squid and the Whale. Comedy or drama (and Adventureland is a little of both), the young actor is confident in his ability to appear non-confident, making James’ dynamism all the more effective.
Matching James in both depth and neurotics is Em, played by Kristen Stewart of Twilight fame. Stewart has a little of that young Meg Ryan cutesy-nervousness to her, with a significant dose of angst mixed in.
Em is a refreshingly conflicted female character. Whether its the one-screen Katherine Heigl character in Knocked Up or the near-invisible females in Superbad or even the underwritten Rashida Jones character in I Love You, Man , the majority of the Apatow films, or films in which Apatow vets simply star (like I Love You, Man), have far richer male characters than female.
But then Adventureland is closer to Garden State than Superbad. The creative passions as influenced by real-life experience (on Mottola’s part it seems) is abundantly clear throughout, each character both flawed and relatable.
Consider Ryan Reynolds, who offers a surprisingly grounded performance as the park’s mechanic Connell. At film’s beginning, the viewer, like his co-workers, admires Connell, who is much in the vain of Monty from Waiting…. Mottola quickly pulls the plug on this however, while resisting to exploit any of Connell’s characteristics for the convenience of the plot.
Along with Reynolds, the rest of the supporting cast offer memorable performances, most notably Martin Starr as Joel, a sad-sack intellectual with big glasses and even bigger altruisms and SNL‘s Bill Hader as the theme park manager.
Because Adventureland finds solace in the sloppiness of growing up, viewers will too.
8 out of 10
Are you excited to see this movie? Have you seen it? What did you think?