Review: Adventureland (2009)
I liked Adventureland; I wanted to like it more than I did. It has a very appealing cast and a good story, but also a lot of fat, just in terms of time wasted, and wasted script opportunities.
The movie tells the story of James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), just graduated from college in the summer of 1987 and excited for his trip abroad to Europe. Bad news, though, his father has been demoted and his family can no longer afford the trip. So James is in for a long, boring summer in the Pittsburgh suburbs, and needs a summer job to help pay for his upcoming matriculation to Columbia in the fall.
This means James starts working in Games at the Adventureland amusement park, with crazy bosses (Bill Hader and Kristin Wiig, very good), with his old best friend Tommy Frigo (Matt Bush), a bundle of misfiring adolescent nerves, and new friends like Em (Kristen Stewart), bookish nerd Joel (Martin Starr), hottie Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva) and maintenance stud Connell (Ryan Reynolds). All of the actors are really excellent and well cast.
Adventureland is, of course, a whole soap opera world for James, an intellectual romantic, and there are romance, heartbreak, secrets, and wacky, irresponsible fun everywhere. He develops a real crush on Em, complicated by her own painful past and hidden passions, dates the hot Catholic girl Lisa P., becomes good friends with Joel, learns to sort of tolerate Frigo, and learns from Connell's b.s. and "expertise" with women.
If it feels like sort of a paint-by-numbers plot, it is, and that hurts quite a bit. The movie never quite gets any real momentum going, and drags in many places. The characters feel real, but without much real to do, the task of keeping the audience interested becomes difficult. Interesting characters like Em's stepmother (Mary Birdsong), James's father (Jack Gilpin), Connell, Joel, and even Em and Frigo, catch our attention, but there's never quite that one scene or sequence that pays it off, that really illuminates them or ties them in with the rest of the story. James himself, the main character, is not very interesting, though Eisenberg makes him appealing.
It's like you're never quite sure where you should be looking. On the one hand, it's a strength for a movie to make you want to be interested in so many characters, but again, the loose ends are much more numerous than the satisfying conclusions.
This does make the movie seem more realistic, one of its strengths, but it creates a lot of boredom and frustration in terms of getting the story or stories told in a way that you can hold on to, or be moved along by. Also, I would like to mention a missed visual gag at the end of the scene where James confronts Em outside of Connell's mother's house. I won't ruin it, but you'll probably notice it, too. One more set-up that goes begging.
The movie gets a lot of things right. The soundtrack is good, the characters each seem fairly real, not just stereotypical movie characters, from James to the other intriguing characters mentioned who never quite have their moments. The movie is trying to recreate true boredom and vapidity, and it does so in a fairly amusing way, for the most part. It's not a laugh-a-minute crowd-pleaser, but it's funny and enjoyable overall.
Director Greg Mottola's Superbad was an immediate classic, over-the-top funny, top-notch story and rhythm, but hey, if you're looking for a fairly intelligent teen romance, a slice of '80's nostalgia, a sometimes slow comedy about a summer job with weed and fun-park rides, you could do a lot worse than Adventureland. Just be ready for it to seem a bit longer than the actual running time. It can drag some.
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