Directed by Greg Mottola
Written by Greg Mottola
Jesse Eisenberg as James Brennan
Kristen Stewart as Em Lewin
Martin Starr as Joel
Ryan Reynolds as Mike Connell
Bill Hader as Bobby
Kristen Wiig as Paulette
107 Minutes (Rated R for language, drug use and sexual references.)
"Adventureland" will certainly take my vote as the worst marketed film of the year, being depicted by the studios as a more comical and laugh out loud funny type of film, in the vein of "Superbad," which was also directed by Greg Mottola two years ago. That film, which became an instant classic in the world of college student quotations, was an extremely raunchy and crude film, although with a very heartfelt center and characters that I was able to relate to, especially at that time in my life. This film is more of a coming of age drama, with hints of comedy here and there. But its during these sweeter segments that "Adventureland" is really more comfortable in. Not to say that it doesn't have its laugh out loud moments, and sex dialogue, as in "Superbad," is fluent and rapid as is the dialogue of most twenty-something year olds. And as in 'Superbad," I was struck on how much Mottola was able to craft characters that I could relate to on such extreme levels, and how delicate and beautifully he directs the scenes of quiet drama. It certainly is evident that Mottola is going to go his own direction with film making, drifting away from a more mainstream comedy like "Superbad." "Adventureland" is not your typical mainstream comedy, and it cannot be advertised any differently.
"Adventureland" begins with James Brennan graduating from college, and only a few days prior he was dumped by his girlfriend of eleven days. However, being a graduate, single, and still a virgin are the least of James' problems, as his father gets a demotion at work, his summer trip to Europe is cancelled, and James is forced to get a summer job in order to afford graduate school in New York, where he was recently accepted to Columbia. After applying to several places and being rejected by them all, James gets a job at the Adventureland theme park, where he works in the games booth. His days are as dismal and repetitive as the t-shirt he has to wear (which says Games several times in horizontal style), with a few things that entertain him. There is Joel, who shows him how all the games are rigged in some way, and teaches him the rules (such as, nobody ever wins a "giant-ass panda.") There is the mechanic, Mike Connell, a musician who claims to have jammed with Lou Reed, one of James' personal heros. And then there is Em, who James quickly falls for, and she begins to have feelings of him too, despite her vast sexual experience, and her fling with the married Mike.
As in "Superbad," Mottola perfectly captures the awkwardness, the horniness, and the frustration of being a teenager, although in this film he focuses more on the teenagers on the cusp of adulthood. The sexual dialogue is toned down, to a point where instead of characters who are exaggerated into making sexual jokes in rapid fire delivery, there are characters who are more realistic and more level headed in terms of making references. And aside from the extremely smart script, Mottola also assembles one hell of a group of actors to present his work. Jesse Eisenberg, who will almost certainly follow the Michael Cera route and get typecasted into these awkward, geeky type of roles-as he already has been in "The Squid and the Whale" and "The Education of Charlie Banks,"-is very good here, both instantly likeable and consistently relateable. I believe every single guy will be able to see a little bit of themselves in James, even if they wish to not admit it. The same could go for Em, played by the Kristen Stewart I knew and loved from "The Cake Eaters," and not the Kristen Stewart I could not stand from "The Messengers." Stewart does a terrific job at portraying Em as realistically as possible-trying to be as adult as possible but so easily confused and vulnerable. Mike Starr does a good job as the witty friend, but does not go overboard in his portrayal, giving Joel a series of dimensions instead of him being a caricature.
But the great cast and acting transcends the leads, and even goes into the supporting characters, namely the parent figures. James' parents are given arcs of their own, as his father goes through his demotion and even early bouts of drinking to calm his nerves. Em's parent figures (in this case her father and her stepmother) are perfectly written to explain her behavior and attitude towards life, and the topic of her mother's death is beautifully handled. My only real quip with performances/characters come from Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, who almost seem like characters in a different movie. The two of them have funny lines and scenes, mostly Bill Hader who has the power to make me laugh before he even speaks, mostly thanks to the mustache he sports here. But there is something about the characters that just do not seem to fit in the whole scope of the movie, and they are the only two characters that go slightly overboard, as if in an early draft of the script the scenes in Adventureland were more surreal and obnoxious instead of delving into serious drama.
Mottola has a knack for direction dramatic scenes, and the delicate way in which he handles these moments really makes the relationship subplot work. The tender lighting, the rather powerful acting, and the slight camera movement all culminate into many painful moments with characters that we grow to care about. Even the character played by Ryan Reynolds, who is in many aspects a complete creep and a bad person, has moments of pathos. Reynolds has proved to me several times that he is a good actor, and he continues that charm here. And the soundtrack, which features many Velvet Underground songs from the beautiful opening credits of "Here She Comes Now," all the way to "Pale Blue Eyes," (one of James' favorite "bummer" songs), is extremely fitting and an overal excellent lineup.
The way "Adventureland" turned out makes me happy. It makes me happy that Greg Mottola did not go the easy way out of directing mainstream comedies and decided to make something of his own and something more personal. He truly makes it clear that he is a talented film maker, both in terms of performances and in terms of visuals. He made characters that I felt real tender about, and characters I felt I could connect with. This is the rare example of a film that was not what I expected it to be, but ended up being even better than I originally intended. A film that not only made me laugh, but also made me reflect on the characters and their actions a few days later.