Friday, April 26, 2013

Movie Review: "Adventureland" by David Pretty

At some point in time every High School kid must contend with that supremely unique rite of debasement: the crappy summer job.  Adventureland tries to tap into this shared experience, but instead of focusing on the job itself it shoe-horns a touching, coming-of-age romance into the proceedings.  This would have been fine if it wasn't overburdened by distracting performances and a host of script contrivances.

With his well-to-do parents sending him away to Europe as a High School grad present, James (Jesse Eisenberg) is gearing up for an awesome summer.  Unfortunately James is forced to abandon his trip and start prospecting for work after his Dad takes a major financial spill.  The only job he can find is working at "Adventureland" a crappy theme park featuring vomit-inducing rides and crooked games of chance, which is  supervised by the borderline-delusional husband-and-wife team of Bobby (Bill Hader) and Paulette (Kristen Wiig).

But things aren't completely grim.  He meets the bitter, eccentric and sarcastic Joel (Martin Starr), and the two bond over shared miseries.  He also strikes up a friendship with fellow game-jockey Em (Kristen Stewart) and there's immediate sparkage between the two.  Naturally,complications arise in the form of a married philanderer named Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds) and prototypical Eighties siren Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva).  Pretty soon their tentative romance is threatened by infidelity and doubt.

Although Adventureland is made by the same creative team as Superbad, it isn't as gut-bustingly funny as its predecessor.  Frankly this doesn't bother me since the relationships between the characters and the trials they endure in Adventureland could have given the film an enduring, Fast Times at Ridgemont High kinda vibe.  Unfortunately, the characters only seem to act in accordance to the daft requirements of the script or do inexplicably stupid things just to create a beat of complication.

For example, it's exceeding difficult to sympathize with Kristen Stewart's character.  Indeed, many of her actions seem indicative of some pretty hefty mental issues.  It also doesn't help that Kristen is stuck in full broody "Bella" mode here.  Even though the script calls for her to be somewhat fucked up by the loss of her mom, her Dad's re-marriage and her own history of disastrous relationships, nothing seems to test her capabilities as an actress here.  As a result, we're subjected to endless scenes of her exhaling, biting her lip and swiping hair out of her face.

I also really wanted to like good ol' Canadian boy Ryan Reynolds but the screenwriters paint Mike in such a inherently creepy fashion that his clean-cut charisma makes him seem miscast.  Jesse Eisenberg, now a bona fide hot property thanks to flicks like Zombieland and The Social Network, fares much better.  He's so sincerely earnest and genuinely awkward that it's easier to stick with him even when he's doing inconceivably stupid things like driving drunk and pursuing the vapid-yet-inexplicably-coveted Lisa P.

Martin Starr is also fun to watch as the film's prerequisite "McLovin"-style dweeb, but a pipe, bad hair and a fetish for Russian literature doesn't a three-dimensional character make.  Fortunately, the writers gives Starr some of the movie's best lines and he makes the best of it with some hilarious deliveries.

Speaking of hilarious, Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are totally gung-ho as the park's slightly-unstable park owners.  Bill does righteous indignation brilliantly and the scene in which he tries to convince James to give it his all while calling a horse race game is pure money.  It's also a challenge to catch all of Kristen Wiig's mumbling, semi-incoherent lines since you're usually still laughing at the last audible thing you heard her say.

The colorful mise-en-scene, bitchin' soundtrack and myriad of amusing Eighties-era trappings also makes for some fun and nostalgic viewing.  But, honestly, what's on display in Adventureland is certainly no more evocative than, say, Freaks and Geeks.  Not only did Judd Apatow's brief-but-brilliant T.V. classic offer up a more authentic representation of this "classic" decade, it also did a better job covering teen angst and drama in a genuinely funny way.

Up until the very last reel I was hoping for a bold, original masterstroke from the script, since, tonally, this seemed to be what the film-makers were preparing us for.  Instead, everything gets wrapped up such in a neat little bow that viewers will be left wondering if this is, in all actually, the worst possible ending for these protagonists.

      Tilt: down.

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