Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Ryan Reynolds
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
What is Miramax thinking?
Okay, I get it. Greg Mottola's "Superbad" was a runaway hit. So, the best way to market his latest film, "Adventureland," is to center the advertising on "From the director of "Superbad?"
I don't think so.
It's a shame, really. "Adventureland" is a fine film. The problem is if you go into it expecting "Superbad," you're going to be woefully disappointed.
"Adventureland" is sweeter than "Superbad."
"Adventureland" is smarter than "Superbad."
"Adventureland" is funnier than "Superbad."
Okay, actually that last one isn't true. "Adventureland" actually falls a tad short of the humor of "Superbad," but the humor we do get is more genuine and heartfelt.
Set in the '80's, "Adventureland" is wrapped around the character of James (Jesse Eisenberg), a virginal recent college graduate whose post-graduation plans for a European vacation are blindsided by his father's sudden demotion and a decidedly ill-timed lack of funds. Rather than cruising Europe having the experience of a lifetime, James finds himself working the summer before grad school at the nearby Adventureland, a noticeably blue collar amusement park headed up by a husband and wife team (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig). It's at Adventureland that James meets and falls for Em (Kristen Stewart), a beautiful and sensitive young girl whose summer tryst with the park's married Romeo (Ryan Reynolds) is destroying her self-esteem bit by bit.
"Adventureland" feels a little bit like an early Barry Levinson film or, perhaps from more recent, along the lines of Michael Cera's recent "Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist." As written and directed by Greg Mottola, "Adventureland" is far more subtle and observant than anything found in Mottola's previous film, "Superbad," and far more reminiscent of his first writing/directing credit, the indie "The Daytrippers."
Part of the reason for the film's richness and authenticity comes from its autobiographical foundation. Mottola himself worked in a Long Island amusement park, and "Adventureland" has that feeling of a film that feels so comfortable that it simply must be true (though it should be stressed that the film itself is not based upon "fact," per Mottola).
"Adventureland" sails on the strength of the chemistry between Kristen Stewart, who made this film before "Twilight" shot her to stardom, and Jesse Eisenberg ("The Squid and the Whale"). Mottola could have easily played it safe by bringing Michael Cera back from "Superbad," but Eisenberg's casting is a stroke of genius and his work here with Stewart is simultaneously tender, funny and heartfelt. While Stewart occasionally felt a bit too goth to me, bringing far too vividly to mind her "Twilight" appearance, she brings a marvelous vulnerability and innocence to Em. The mere fact that she can make Em, despite her affair with her married co-worker, feel so innocent is a true testimony to the power of her performance.
While Stewart and Eisenberg give "Adventureland" its emotional core, Ryan Reynolds again proves he's finally moving past his early puppy dog stares and one-note performances. With a character smartly developed by Mottola, Reynolds gives us a young man who seems to be clinging to what little respect he maintains from his younger co-workers who seem blindly convinced that his story about once jammin' with Lou Reed is true.
The film's comic center lies clearly in the hands of Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, as a hilarious yet often touching married couple who care for one another and their employees in the most offbeat and funny ways.
Strong supporting performances are also turned in by Martin Starr, Margarita Levieva, Wendie Malick and Matt Bush.
The film's soundtrack is stellar, including a musical score by Yo La Tengo and tunes from the likes of Falco, Lou Reed, The Replacements and a host of others.
So, the question surfaces again...what was Miramax thinking?
Opening up against "Fast & Furious," "Adventureland" is likely going to be a hard sell at the box-office with its 1980's setting and smarter than usual humor. The people who SHOULD see this aren't likely to go thinking it'll be too much like "Superbad," while the "Superbad" crowd aren't likely to embrace this film.
Ignore the advertising.
"Adventureland" is a funny, tender, heartfelt and intelligent romantic comedy with touches of Levinson, John Hughes and easily one of the best that this genre has offered in years.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic