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Apr 9, 2009

Fletch's Film Review: Adventureland

I never worked in an amusement park. I never had dreams of going to New York City to attend grad school. And I most certainly wasn't a 22-year old virgin. But I was a child of the 80s. And I did work summer jobs before, during and after college. And I had relationships not unlike those portrayed in Adventureland. And I most certainly have come to an age where even those friendships and relationships that went south as a young man hold a nostalgic value that can't be measured.

With that in mind, Adventureland served as a reminder to me that what you bring into the theater has a heavy influence of what you take out of a film. I may not have lived in Pittsburgh in 1987, just as I never flew to New Jersey to attend a funeral, but as with 2004's Garden State, I felt at times as though I was watching home movies from a life I never lived. And despite its imperfections, when a film connects with you like that, it's really hard not to love it.

Early on, I was worried. Before the film's title is even shown, we're already made aware that our protagonist, James, is a 22-year old virgin, complete with friends that are out to help him "get that first one out of the way," ensuring that his ensuing post-graduation trip to Europe will be a sexual success on all fronts. Here we go again, right? How many films starring young men must we see where the prime (and sometimes only) objective is to "GET LAID!," only to of course see our heroes learn that there's more to life (and women) than just sex. Aww, didn't we learn a great lesson there?

Further worry came in the form of James himself. Played almost nebbishly by Jesse Eisenberg, James starts out as the type of anti-stud that, again, we've seen one too many times. He doesn't just get pushed around (by women, by his parents, by his "friends"), but he's the type that makes self-deprecating remarks as it's happening. How many times must we endure the pain of Mikey's painful Swingers voice mail fiasco?

However, Adventureland proves to be the rare film that gains momentum, and charm, as it proceeds. As James settles into his job at the amusement park, we're introduced to cast of characters that's not only diverse but detailed and respected enough to transcend mere cliches (the lone exceptions are the park's operators, played nevertheless with straight-up comic glee by Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig). From Martin Starr's excellent, pipe-smoking Joel to Matt Bush's D'Annunzio-lite Frigo (watch for his awesome declaratory t-shirt early on), they're given the kinds of traits and quirks that stand out without being grating, and there's a distinct lack of pandering to the audience's intelligence. If anything, it's the park's attendees that get the short end of the stick, portrayed mostly as rubes and/or morons, there only to torment the employees and/or get mocked by them - by and large, these are smart kids that just happen to be doing work that a chimp would laugh at. And though they sadly don't realize it at the time, they're having the times of their lives - even when forced to listen to "Rock Me, Amadeus" 20 times a day.

Fletch's Film Rating:

"It's in the hole!"

Random thoughts:

* This film has been compared to everything from Say Anything... to Dazed and Confused to the oeuvre of no less than John Hughes himself. All of those are apt, and I'd even throw in a heavy nod to Noah Baumbach's similarly toned post-college dramedy Kicking and Screaming and also to another of Richard Linklater's - Before Sunrise. Whether it's the soundtrack, the setting, the realistic characters or the lack of broad physical humor, Adventureland seems set to become a cult teen hit in the vein of all those. I hope it does, because with a $6 million opening weekend, cult status is about all is has to look forward to in terms of popularity. A shame.

* I can't recall specifically where, but a review I read recently paid a compliment to Mottola that I think bears repeating. They pointed out that, despite the film's 1987 setting, Adventureland never beats you over the head with kitschy "Haha - look, it's the 80s! Weren't we stupid?" moments. That subtlety and respect to the era is welcome in a period comedy where the usual direction is to mine the era specifically for laughs (The Wedding Singer, Wet Hot American Summer). There's not necessarily anything wrong with looking back on old times with a sense of humor, but keeping in line with the tone of your movie is paramount, and Mottola handles it excellently.

* In a similar vein, the soundtrack kicks ass; it touches on several high points in 80s pop and rock (The Cure's "Just Like Heaven," Bowie's "Modern Love") while largely avoiding the usual roundup of one-hit wonders, outside of the aforementioned "Rock Me, Amadeus," which is derided even by the film's characters. The real standout for me, though, was INXS's "Don't Change," which plays at a pivotal moment. It's been so many years since I heard the song that I barely knew it was INXS. It was familiar, but sounded like a cover of a song I knew from long ago.

After having listened to it at least five times since last night, I'm sure of three things: 1) it's not a cover, though it was covered by the Goo Goo Dolls (thankfully, I never heard that version), 2) I really wish I hadn't forgotten it, as a listen this morning to INXS's Greatest Hits has me convinced that it's their best song, and 3) is it just me, or does INXS have the worst ratio of respect given:respect received of all 80s bands? This is a band with an impressive string of radio-friendly pop-rock hits, that sold millions of albums over the span of almost 15 years...and yet they practically get the one-hit wonder treatment. Doesn't INXS win over Duran Duran and (gulp) Wang Chung every time? They don't even seem to be in the same class to me.

8 people have chosen wisely: on "Fletch's Film Review: Adventureland"

Craig said...

I saw this movie last weekend and was very disappointed. I knew going in it wouldn't be anything like Superbad, but was slow and boring with minimal lines that I found funny. I was looking at my watch more, never a good thing in a movie and really don't see it as any type of cultesque movie for the future.

I did a video review of the movie if you or anyone wants to check it out.


Fletch said...

Hey Craig - I watched your review, and it appears as though we're going to have to agree to disagree, as this seems to be an issue of taste more than anything. I enjoyed the pace, was glad it didn't go for easy laughs, and was never once bored. And don't think I don't like Superbad - I do, it's just that this had an obviously different tone, outside of the first few minutes that I discussed.

You also mentioned not liking Kristen Stewart here. I think she hit the nail on the head with her performance - when I was in my teens, I practically dated that girl, so I know it was real.

I hate to play the role of crotchety old guy, especially since I'm not that old, but I get the feeling that most folks under 30 won't appreciate this the same way that younger Gen Xers will. But who knows - I love Dazed and it takes place the year I was born.

steel11kane said...

This is the problem, though. This movie was marketed as the next Superbad, when technically it should have been marketed as a Drama.

When you go in expecting a comedy you are going to be let down. If you were hoping for a good movie with comedy sprinkled in - then it would most likely be viewed differently.

The marketing on this sucked. Just because the guy directed Superbad, doesn't mean this had to be a comedy.

Fletch said...

A reminder for all: attempt to go into movies as cold as possible.

I think I saw the trailer only once, if that. I don't know that I was expecting a raucous comedy, but I think it was pretty funny anyway.

Oh, and I forgot one thing. Craig, in your review, you mentioned something about Eisenberg more or less impersonating Cera. I saw a similar sentiment by some folks before the movie had even come out, and it needs to stop. While I didn't love the character the whole time (basically, I was bothered by how much of a p*ssy he was), I think it's way too easy to throw that Cera comparison out there just because they're both skinny with curlish light brown hair.

They're not exactly polar opposites or anything, but Cera's "thing" has always been nervous energy, awkward pauses, funny glances and strange non-sequitirs. Eisenberg's James was just a self-deprecating geek.

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Paul Arrand Rodgers said...

I'm glad that Kirsten Stewart seems involved in this movie. As a kid, I loved her in Panic Room. As an adult, I re-watched that movie after seeing Twilight and couldn't believe that the same actress was in both movies.

Hopefully I'll be seeing it this weekend.

Karen said...

It's on my list of movies to see!


Reel Whore said...

This would make a good cult classic. Mottola really did do a good job in setting the tone with the styles and music of the era. You know I didn't love it, but it's far from a bad movie by any means.