This film has garnered an 8.5/10 between our two reviews.
In 2007’s Superbad, director Greg Mottola hit box office gold with a coming of age story of two high school losers with foul mouths and a funny story. While Adventureland is another coming of age story, it doesn’t appear to have the same qualities to give Mottola another big hit.
Adventureland takes place is one of the ugliest eras of all time, the 80s. Everything about style in the 80s was a bit atrocious, from the hair, the cars, the clothes, the houses. In 1987, James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) a recent college grad is all ready to take his graduation present, a trip to Europe, only to be informed by his parents that his father has been demoted and they can no longer afford the pricey trip. In addition to that he has been accepted to Columbia for grad school, but his parents can no longer afford to help him with that either. He does what anyone else would have to do in that situation, get a job. When it becomes apparent that he has no useful skills he applies to numerous jobs only to land the glamour-less job of a Games employee at the local theme park, Adventureland.
James has surprisingly come out of college a virgin, and it appears to be a slight speed bump when he runs into the very attractive, Em (Kristen Stewart). He learns the ropes from the brainy stoner, Joel (Martin Starr). Through him he starts making friends at the park, including Em. Unbeknownst to him Em is having an affair with the park’s handyman, Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds), who claims to have jammed with Lou Reed. Without knowing about the affair he continues to take advice from Connell. His relationship with Em and the rest of the park is what we see develop over the rest of the movie. With plenty of pitfalls and great 80s music to accompany it.
What we see here is much more straightforward than Superbad. Mottola takes a much more grownup approach with his characters in this one. While they might seem a little juvenile at times, with their general debauchery, the characters come off as very real. Even in a different era these people are relatable to you. You know the guy who used to be a good friend, but just refuses to grow up. The really bright guy who you can tell is really smart, but continues to do nothing with his intelligence. The girl everyone wants and she knows it, but is a bit of a tease because of it.
Eisenberg does a very understated job of his character. Anyone who saw Superbad will most likely compare Eisenberg to the star of that film, Michael Cera. Don’t be mistake while they are both quiet and mousy type of guys, Eisenberg is a much more serious in his presentation of characters. The whole time he is on screen you can feel the tenseness of his character. As he slowly unwinds through the movie you can tell he is geting more comfortable in his own skin.
Kristen Stewart does an admirable job as Em. This role isn’t going to garner her as much fame as her role in Twilight, but it’s a much better role. Unlike the placeholder character of Bella, she is a strong willed woman with a slightly messed up life. Her family life trickles over into her affair with Connell. As much as she wants to be a good person, she doesn’t feel like she is. Stewart looks tortured through the whole movie as she is with two men, the one who loves her and the man she is just a mistress to.
As far as the cast of Freaks and Geeks go, there have been a lot of breakout stars, Jason Segal, James Franco, Seth Rogen, etc. This movie proves that Martin Starr deserves to be in the same category as them. He’s grown up a bit since the show and his acting has only gotten better. His performance as Joel is one of the best in the film. A stoner who is into Russian Literature and can never get the girl. He probably has the best intentions of anyone in the film. He is instantly relatable and likable, it will be interesting to see his future role choices.
As the goofy married managers of the park Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig steal many of the real comedic moments throughout the film. They are probably the most over the top characters in the film, but it still doesn’t mean you don’t know people similar to them. Both Hader and Wiig hail from SNL and they look to be stars that are going to break out big from the show. Every movie they have been in lately they tend to steal scenes. As funny as they are, they are going to lend your film a little comedic cred.
Last, but not least we have the role of Mike Connell, played by Ryan Reynolds. A bit of a departure from his normal roles, Reynolds gets to play a bit of a creep. He’s never a person you fully despise, in fact I think if anyone else had played him he might have been a little more disliked. He still has a charm that lets you know why the women of the park are swooning over him even though he is cheating on his wife. It’s impossible to hate him, but also to completely like him.
Adventureland might have misrepresented itself a bit in the trailers. In the trailer the film showed itself to be another coming of age comedy with a lot of laughs and not a lot of story. It might have been much better marketed as what it is, a damn good drama with a few good comedic elements. While I might be down on the looks of the 80s there is one thing that this film proves, the 80s had a great sound. If you are a music fan you will find it hard not to tap your feet at some of the music from the likes of The Replacements, David Bowie, The Cure, Crowded House, etc.
In short, if you like a good coming of age story with a few laughs inserted here and there and don’t mind a bit of touchy subject material, this movie is the one for you.
I give it a 9/10.
Another Take by Zac:
Greg Mottola’s follow up to Superbad shares little in common with that previous film, which isn’t a bad thing as this is an honest and sometimes sweet coming of age tale for a fresh college grad.
James has a plan. As his graduation present his parents are supposed to help fund his trip to Europe with friends, where he can finally lose his virginity, and then he will move to New York to attend an Ivy League school for graduate degree and everything will be peachy. Well upon graduation he discovers that his dad has been demoted and his parents can no longer float him along any more and that he must get a summer job. The only place that will hire him is the local dead end amusement park, Adventureland. James is stuck working the game booths for the course of the summer in which he meets a number of interesting individual, the most interesting being a cute fellow twenty something named Em. James and Em click and they begin hanging out quite a bit and eventually fall into a sort of pseudo relationship of sorts. Meanwhile, James bonds with Joel, a dorky fellow games worker and Connell the parks repair man who is also a fairly successful musician on the side, or so they say. As the summer goes on, we get to see the ups and downs of James and Em, James struggles with his affinity to fall in love, the comings and goings of the park, and the challenge of fighting his urge to get laid over his faithfulness to a relationship.
The film is being sold as a comedy, but dramedy is a far more appropriate label for the film. There are plenty of funny scenes throughout, but this film is more of a look into the life of a down and out twenty something who has yet to really mature in the realm of love. We follow James’ trials and tribulations as he tries to figure out not only his love life, but where his life is going in general, with some shenanigans thrown in for good measure. Em also gets a chunk of the story as well, and she is kind of on the same path as James, lost in her pursuit of finding another while trying to find stable ground at home as the household has changed drastically since the death of her mother.
This might all sound like a bit of a downer, but the film remains fairly upbeat, outside of the act two to three “twist” where every film seems to conventionally try and split up our main characters. The film moves along at a nice and easy pace and is never boring, and almost always pretty smart and interesting. A couple members of the cast could have used a bit more fleshing out, and there are a few useless characters that might get a bit to much, but the story is really James’ and a bit too Em. The film also opens a couple doors that had potential to supply a lot of interesting material and intrigue for characters but sadly uses them for the sake of plot. Connell and Lisa P both could have supplied a lot more to the story I feel and it’s a shame we didn’t get more of them. Also, the film tries to make something of Joel, James co-worker buddy, but Mottola never really figures out a way to really get the most out of the character and we are left with a couple of scenes that feel in complete and odd surrounding him; oh well, didn’t destroy the film or anything.
The actors in the film all do a nice job, with Jesse Eisenberg doing some good work as James, though he seems like a bit more grown up and mature version of his character in The Squid and the Whale. Kristen Stewart is successful as a bit of an angst driven, intelligent and laid back girlfriend, but she also doesn’t seem to be doing anything that different then her character in Twilight either; but I still like her in what she has been doing as of late. Martin Starr as Joel supplies a couple of good lines, but like I mentioned his character kind of gets lost, and Starr doesn’t get much else to do in the picture, even though they tried to. Ryan Reynolds is likeable as always as Connell and our stigma about Reynolds usual role helps play to the arc of his character and not seeing a couple things coming with him. Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader are the stand outs as the park owners though, bring the laughs every time they are on the screen, one only wishes there was more of them in the picture though, as a number of the hijinks on the Adventureland site don’t involve them and it should. Margarita Levieva also nails the, ‘I’m hot shit’ shtick and I think we could have dived into her character more.
In the end, Adventureland is one of the better attempts at a coming of age story in the last couple years. Is it the best of the bunch, no, there are too many little blunders dotted throughout the film that hold it back. But nonetheless, it is an entertaining and engaging dramedy that is a semi-successful character study of a fresh college grad that is lost in the world. Only if Mottola would have been able to pin down exactly what stories he wanted to focus on outside of James’ then parts of the film would have felt a little deeper and less scattershot making the film a more cohesive film, but it still entertains as is so I guess he did alright.