April 16, 2009

Movie Review: Adventureland

adventureland2_largeMarketed as the second coming of Superbad, Adventureland proves to be considerably less funny and not quite as vulgar, but still has the substance that allows it to stand on its own two feet as a solid film all on its own. It is not a movie that is going to revolutionize the drama, nor will it be considered for "funniest comedy of the year," and it could still prove to be forgettable in the near future. For the moment, however, all cynicism aside, Adventureland is a movie that is more effective as a drama/comedy crossover than I would have suspected. It is the sort of sweet, unsuspecting movie that is always a pleasure to come across at the theater.

adventurelandpic5At the center of our tale is James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), a college graduate with a demeanor that leans towards the intellectual. The young man is preparing for a summer of travel through Europe with one of his college buddies. The financing of the trip is to be his graduation gift from his parents. Unfortunately, the money is not to be, as daddy is demoted and the cash is just not there. This leaves James with the unenviable task of getting a summer job, all of which seem to be below his intellectual level.

James eventually lands a job at the local amusement park, Adventureland. Here begins his actual maturing process. This is, essentially, a coming of age story where James and the rest of the merry band of losers must be inventive in order to keep themselves interested in life. This creativity, more often than not, leads to the males employed by the park speaking of the collective infatuation with Lisa P. (Maragrita Levieva).

adventurelandpic8While there is a certain allure to the rides girl, James is more intrigued by Em (Kristen Stewart). She is quiet and more intelligent than anyone may think. This is the strength of the film, the slowly developing relationship between James and Em. James is inexperienced on the relationship front and is awkward and clumsy in his initial interactions, while the more experienced Em takes a shine to the young man. Their mutual affections grow in fits and spurts. They have conversations that are more than monosyllabic mutterings and actually contain some level of intelligence. It also has the added effect of forcing them to confront truths about themselves that may not have otherwise been found, yet prove to be important pieces in their personal growth.

While James and Em navigate the choppy waters of developing love, we also get to spend time with other Adventureland employees. This includes the pipe smoking Joel (Martin Starr), the married rock star handyman Connell (Ryan Reynolds), and the park owners Bobby (Bill Hader) and Paulette (Kristen Wiig). All of our time with them only adds to the tapestry of that is the film, building a heightened realism.

adventurelandpic7Director Greg Mottola (Superbad, Arrested Development) gives the film a slightly surreal atmosphere, yet keeps the tale firmly grounded in reality. It is not unlike Arrested Development, where the characters are finely crafted and tell tale that feels real, yet is not. This is a movie that is subtle in its comedy and its drama, more content to make you smile and nod knowingly than it is to go for the belly laugh.

Jesse Eisenberg does a great job playing the awkward, insecure, but intellectual kid trying to find his way through a difficult phase of life. Then there is Kristen Stewart, infinitely better here than in Twilight. There is very good chemistry between the two leads, helping build that all important realism. The supporting cast is solid too, Bill Hader is fast becoming a favorite supporting comic performer.

Bottomline. No, it is not what was advertised, but that turns out to be a good thing. Adventureland is a good-hearted film with an abundance of colorful characters capturing a span of time where young adults are in the process of finding themselves. Well worth spending time with.



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