Adventureland

Movie Review #884

BENEFITING FROM GREG MOTOLLA’S SINCERE DIRECTION, “ADVENTURELAND” IS A WHIMSICAL BLEND OF HUMOR, NOSTALGIA, AND DRAMA.

★★★½
By Red Stewart

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Released April 3, 2009 (nationwide)
Comedy, Drama, Romance
Rated R (contains profanity, drug use, suggestive dialogue)
107 minutes

If you’ve never worked a crappy job in your life, I have two things to say: A) Consider yourself lucky and B) Don’t bother watching this film. If you have however, then you’ll find “Adventureland” to be a humorous reflection on those awful days spent dealing with horrible customers and shooting the breeze with your fellow co-workers.

While everyone’s job may have been different, the experience was no doubt the same. For me it was a McDonald’s, but for James Brennan (Eisenberg) it’s Adventureland; a theme park he’s forced to work at after his parents find out they can’t pay his college tuition. He immediately becomes familiar with his colleagues; a ragtag group of good people that are trying to pass the long days catering to the annoying masses. In particular, Brennan finds himself attracted to the street-smart Em Lewin (Stewart) who, little does he know, is involved in a deep love/angst circle with a lot of the other employees.

On the outset, “Adventureland” seems more like a stereotypical vision of the teenage life than a legitimate depiction of it. You have everyone smoking pot, reminiscing about the future, and constantly fantasizing about sleeping with the hottest guy/girl. But in reality this is all a very sly ploy constructed by writer/director Greg Motolla to give insight into how young adults really feel about their radically-changing world. It’s often said that the hardest years of someone’s life are the ages 18-22, and we truly see that here as, though everyone puts up a facade in the park, at their core they’re normal human beings with feelings. They recognize their own faults and have a breaking point to the amount of criticism they can take, whether that be from parents, friends, or complete outsiders. The amount of honesty the characters displayed was the most surprising thing to me given that most teen films settle for trite and tired tropes.

This success is as much due to the actors as it is to Motolla’s directing. Working on an indie project like “Adventureland” must have been less restraining than a studio blockbuster as I have never seen this experimental side from established actors like Ryan Reynolds, Bill Hader, and Kristen Wiig. But of course, “Adventureland” primarily relies on its two leads over its supporting characters to convey the coming-of-age part of the story. Similar to Shia LaBeuf in Disturbia, Eisenberg embodies the teen personality with incredible candor, making his reactions in every situation seem authentic; from confronting jerks to expressing his feelings towards Em.

And Kristen Stewart, my god, where has this Kristen Stewart been for the past five years? In the “Twilight” films and “Snow White and the Hunstman”, all we’ve seen from her is this subtle, impassive demeanor as though she doesn’t care and can’t really act. But here she shows wit, charm, depth, poignancy, genuine anger/sadness…in other words emotion. These are the qualities of a great actress, and I really do want to see more of this Kristen in the future.

The only major complaint I have with “Adventureland” is that it chooses to end on a conventional, cliche note, which is bothersome given that Motolla builds up to an entirely different finale that would’ve been jaw-dropping and unique. However, I suppose going that route wouldn’t have helped with the financing given that most producers prefer happy endings.

Regardless, “Adventureland” is a very sweet film with a cast and crew that both care deeply about its themes. I highly recommend it.

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4 thoughts on “Adventureland

  1. Nice review. While I enjoyed the soundtrack (you can’t go wrong with Judas Priest) and Bill Hader and Kirsten Wiig’s oddball couple, I felt the movie was pretty sub-par. I grew kind of bored after the strong opening and while I liked the bitter-sweet feel of the ending, I was disappointed.

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