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Movie Review: Adventureland
Young love is ready to bloom! | Photo courtesy of Miramax
After more than a decade in the wilderness following his fine 1996 debut, The Daytrippers, director Greg Mottola roared back into public consciousness in 2007 with the wonderfully foul Superbad. His follow-up to that, Adventureland, is a much gentler work that should cement his position as a sought-after director for years to come. Based on Motttola's teenage experiences working at an amusement park in the 80s, the film is a wonderful conflation of two disparate genres: daffy comedy and genuinely affecting coming of age flick.
Jesse Eisenberg stars as James, a smart, awkward and -- importantly -- virginal teenager forced to work a summer job to pay for college. His violent neighbor Tommy (a brilliant Matt Bush) gets him on at the local amusement park and quickly the adventure begins. James meets a rogues gallery of characters on the job: his manic bosses (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig), his best friend (Martin Starr), a philandering handyman (Ryan Reynolds), an unattainable babe (Margarita Levieva) and, of course, the love of his young life (Kristen Stewart).
Old love has lost its mind. | Photo courtesy of Miramax
It is a testament to Mottola's tight script and deft direction that all of these characters come across as real human beings and not just required archetypes. While it seems that Hader, Wiig and Bush are sometimes acting in a completely different movie -- and I mean that as a compliment because they are all seriously funny -- it's never so distracting that you check out from the main story of the film which is the relationship between Eisenberg and Stewart and how it grows increasingly and realistically complex as the film progresses.
As noted earlier, Adventureland is a period piece of the 1980s, but it never mines the era for the sort of cheap jokes that a lesser film would. The humor -- and there is a lot of it -- is derived from the various foibles of the characters and their relationships. One scene that is both hilarious and poignant centers around Eisenberg getting a huge erection while tenderly holding Stewart in a swimming pool and then having said erection loudly pointed out by Tommy Frigo to the delight of a house full of partygoers. Awkward and perfect.
Despite the best intentions of the film's marketers to avoid the subject, however, it should be mentioned that the film is in no way a pure comedy, particularly in the second half. Sure, Eisenberg and Stewart enjoy that perfect innocent blush of early romance, but they also endure the pain that occurs when the lies begin to pile up between the two of them. Like many precocious teenagers, Stewart slips into relationships that she should clearly avoid and, of course, those bad relationships eventually damage the good one she has with Eisenberg.
Ultimately, though -- as I'm sure you can imagine -- goodness does out. The young lovers find a path through all the traps that surround them and both are wiser and stronger for having lived through the experience. Adventureland may not be the funniest film you see this year -- nor the wisest -- but it does an excellent job of combining the two and that's no simple trick. In many hands, this type of film could come across as slight, but Mottola gives the film a real weight and depth where there typically would be none. I highly recommend it.
Adventureland starts tomorrow in Los Angeles.