Take a Visit to Adventureland

(Courtesy of Adventureland)

“Adventureland” is a new, bittersweet film written and directed by Greg Mottola (“Superbad”). In the summer of ’87, man-boy James Brennan’s (Jessie Eisenberg) summer plans to travel through Europe don’t pan out as expected, so he’s thrust into the summer job search. After a tumultuous job hunt, he finds “Adventureland,” a suburban amusement park in its busiest season, and starts his new job where he finds a love interest, Em (Kristin Stewart), a subtle rival, Connell (Ryan Reynolds) and his two bosses, Bobby (Bill Hader) and Paulette (Kristen Wiig).

The characters are all semi-dysfunctional and slightly depressed. James’ best friend Joel (Martin Starr) falls for an anti-Semitic Catholic girl. “So, what are you studying?” says the anti-Semitic Catholic girl. “Oh, Russian literature and Slavic Studies,” replies Joel with his bookish demeanor, wearing rounded glasses and a greasy crown. “Oh? What’s your career path?” she says. “Oh, you know, cabbie, hot dog vendor, drug delivery guy,” he deadpans. What a bittersweet moment. Joel starts to develop feelings for the girl, but the girl is revolted by him because he’s Jewish. “But I’m an atheist,” he counters. It doesn’t matter. A girl like that doesn’t want to be with a boy who quotes Virgil in a suburban, petit bourgeois amusement park.

This is the world of “Adventureland.” An archetypical, straightforward plot would dictate that a character confronts his/her fears, enemies, loved ones, so on and so forth. “Adventureland” is oddly anti-climatic. Characters begin to confront each other but everything suddenly halts. As the characters approach a resolution to their conflict, they literally stop and turn away. It’s as if pages from the script are missing.

Somehow, the disjointedness works. And it works well. Everything in the movie, however haphazard it feels, seems pulled together – it’s no slick Judd Appatow flick with the regular “frat pack” (Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Paul Rudd, et al). But it’s sweet. It’s literary. It’s the kind of movie in which the lead character can blame his lack of “intercourse” on Shakespeare.

Eisenberg, a star from indie hit “The Squid and the Whale,” is like a grown up Michael Cera (“Juno,” “Superbad”). Eisenberg’s performance is still deliciously awkward, but he isn’t afraid to kiss the girl. Kristin Stewart’s (“Twilight,” “Into the Wild”) performance as Em is a surprisingly earnest take on the character and shows off her versatility as an actress.

Terry Stacey’s lens bathes the actors in beautiful, ivory-colored light. Aesthetically, the film has an organic and vintage look to it, usually enveloped by the summer night sky. Anne McCabe’s editing is shoddy, giving the film rough, first-draft kind of pacing that matches the characters’ state of mind: patchy and unresolved.
The soundtrack is stunning, featuring music by the likes of The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed and Falco, among many others.

Adults looking to recapture some of their youth should watch this movie. As far as my generation, if you’re looking to see many of your vulnerabilities manifest themselves on-screen, definitely watch it. It serves as a reminder of how good we really have it. For all of us there will come a time when we have to leave our own personal “Adventureland.” Summer always ends, though I doubt we can blame Shakespeare for that.

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