Friday, April 17, 2009

Adventureland (***1/2)

Written and Directed by Greg Motolla


Greg Motolla's Superbad was an immensely popular coming-of-age story about two unpopular teenagers trying to get laid during one crazy night. The film was penned by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg and contained some of the most inflammatory comedic dialogue I'd seen in a while. Now, Motolla is on his own as a writer, and what kind of story does he choose to tell? The coming-of-age story about an unpopular college kid trying to get laid during one crazy summer at one crazy amusement park.

Sure, the same formula is there, but what Motolla accomplishes with Adventureland is very interesting. His eye for sentimentality glimmered a bit in Superbad, but with this film it is quite obvious that he is not just another cog in the Judd Apatow machine. Bad taste is not celebrated, the film's humor is subdued (none of the manic expletive explosions from Jonah Hill here), and the events highlighted are poigniant expositions about growing up and falling in love.

The year is 1987, and James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) just graduated from college and is looking forward to his graduation present: a trip to Europe with his best friend. After that, the two plan to move to a high-end New York City apartment as they attend grad school at Columbia. Unfortunately, when James' father loses his high-paying job, the trip is thrown out the window, and even his grad school plans are put into jeopardy. His only option is to get a summer job, and the only one available is at the notorious amusement park named Adventureland.

The low-end park has creaky rides, rigged games, and is run by Bobby (Bill Hader) and Paulette (Kristen Wiig), an optimistic married couple, who couldn't understand why anybody wouldn't want to work at a place where Falco's "Rock Me Amadeus" is played every twenty minutes. James is thrown into games, and he is mentored by the grizzled veteran Joel (Martin Star). Joel is a rather awkward-looking man, whose apathy is only equaled by his sarcasm. The most important person James meets at the park is Em (Kristen Stewart), a grungy young girl with an eye for dysfunction and an ear for classic rock.

Em is a complicated girl: her father remarried soon after her mother died to an insecure bald woman, and she is caught in a secret affair with the park's married maintenance man (Ryan Reynolds). Despite all that, James is intoxicated by her, and spends most of his summer trying to get close to her. There are other stories which include Joel's unsuccessful exploits in love, and the emergance of Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva), the hot sexpot legend who has returned for the summer. The core of the story, though, deals with James and Em, and the evolution of their relationship.

What's most fascinating about Adventureland is its showcase of the comradery that arises at even the worst occupations. The friendships and bonds that are created at the strangest places are shown in a sincere and honest way. The script is supposedly based on Motolla's real encounter with Adventureland, and his summer job there. There's a real care with the way Motolla tells the story, and he treats it with a delicate manner. It doesn't matter that the ideas are hackneyed or unoriginal, because the connection that Motolla has adds to the film's charisma.

The film also has quite an amazing ear for music. The film's soundtrack contains songs from Lou Reed, The Velvet Underground, The Cure, The Rolling Stones, and The Replacements. It's obvious that Motolla's actual affection for the music is the reason for their inclusion (I find it hard to believe mainstream teenagers in the 1980's were rocking out to Lou Reed's Transformer), but the songs are used effectively and are a treat for any fan of classic rock. You can see any film from Zack and Miri Make a Porno to Watchmen to see a film that has a great soundtrack but gravely misuses it.

The film's cast is loaded with comedic all-stars, including Hader, Starr, and Wiig, who carry most of the burden of making the film funny. As I've said before, this is not a movie about jokes but about becoming an adult. Jesse Eisenberg is fantastic as James, in his first major role since the fantastic The Squid and The Whale. His nebbish, sarcastic persona has shades of Woody Allen. The film's biggest star is probably Twilight's Kristen Stewart. The only other film I'd seen her in was a bit part in Into The Wild, where I found her absolutely captivating. In Adventureland, she's a convincing self-destructive young woman, and she may become the new face angst-ridden young actresses. Sure, I'd say Ryan Reynolds is miscast as the adulterous, but suave mechanic slash rock-n-roller, but that is just small nitpicking.

is a film being promoted as a zany, teenage sex comedy. I'm sure I wasn't the only one surprised to find out that the characters were college students. I'm sure the fact that the film is the antithesis of Superbad will turn a lot of people off, and its current box office takings reveal that. All that said, with this film, Motolla has established himself as one of the best new comedic filmmakers in the business.

No comments: