Release Date: April 3rd, 2009 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Greg Mottola Actors: Jesse Eisenberg, Ryan Reynolds, Kristen Stewart, Martin Starr, Bill Hader
dventureland” succeeds where films like “Charlie Bartlett” and “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” fail, thanks to a more relatable cast of eccentric characters and a reality grounded in a smaller pool of believable fiction. Plus, the engaging chemistry between the anguished Kristen Stewart, accentuated by a constantly self-tousled hairstyle, and the mile-a-minute, awkward-sentence-spewing Jesse Eisenberg create a more realistic environment for their budding romance – one where they don’t need to convince the whole world to love them. Though plenty of groin punches, giant-ass pandas, and the disconcerting feeling that one can only have fun while intoxicated attempt to mask the poignancy, at its heart, “Adventureland” is a sincere, if somewhat Hollywoodized, coming-of-age love story.
It’s the summer of 1987 and young James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) prepares for his graduation gift of a lavish vacation abroad. But his parents’ financial difficulties find his plans cancelled and, in an effort to save money, he takes a job at local amusement park “Adventureland.” At first it appears his summer job may be the worst thing to ever befall him, but James soon learns to appreciate the colorful group of misfits who run the theme park, including the eccentric husband and wife managers Bobby and Paulette (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig), the morose Joel (Martin Starr), the goofball prankster Frigo (Matt Bush), the cocky maintenance guy Connell (Ryan Reynolds), and the troubled beauty Em (Kristen Stewart). As he quickly falls for Em and gets wrapped up in the quirky lives of his newfound friends, James steadily recognizes the adventure he’s found without ever leaving home.
It’s insightful, intelligent, and perhaps even allegorical – certainly more than the “raunchy teen comedy” trailer lets on. If the marketing doesn’t completely baffle the would-be target audience, there are redeeming qualities to be found in the love story that goes beyond the simplistic teen romance that frequents even the most vulgar comedies. “Adventureland” basks in a melancholy mood that makes the bitter jokes less inhibited and the drama more heavy-hitting.
The largest disappointment will come to those looking for nonstop laughs, which this film spreads out – it relies on the humor of uncomfortable human situations more than glorified setups begging for contrived disasters. It’s not constant or even raucous hilarity. It utilizes a more morbid vision of “Napoleon Dynamite’s” supporting characters, and Jesse Eisenberg plays a toned down Michael Cera – a similarly uneasy soul wandering about with veiled doubt and major insecurities. Both of their approaches to dialogue and expressions remain similarly neutral, but Eisenberg appears more genuine here. The reasoning behind an ’80s setting, the “virgin” factor that pops up in almost every high-school oriented film, and the need for drugs are questionable at best, but the tone of the film stays consistent. Hopefully, “Adventureland” will be recognized for its qualities as a presumably realistic love story surrounded by the natural goofiness of graceless teen life – and not the dime-a-dozen college party movies with which it will probably get brushed under the carpet.
– The Massie Twins