Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Number Of Very Funny People Come Together To Make A Quirky Drama With Adventureland

The Good: Moments of character, Moments of humor/concept
The Bad: No superlative performances, Universally unlikable characters.
The Basics: The more I contemplate the dramedy Adventureland, the more I think I did not like this story of pot-smoking, lying, sexually promiscuous and willfully dumb young people.

Every once in a long while, I let myself be swayed by a movie preview and I suddenly recall a preview for a film where I enjoyed the trailer, yet never actually got around to watching the film it was for, and I make an actual effort to take in the film. Tonight, that movie was Adventureland, a quirky drama whose preview made it seem like it would be a comedy. The Jesse Eisenberg/Kristen Stewart vehicle is one of those equally rare movies that falls apart the more I consider it. So, while I originally considered Adventureland about a 6 or 6.5, the more I wrote about it and thought about it, the less I realized I liked it.

It is also worth noting that while I do not judge the film negatively for the way it was sold to mass audiences (it really appears to be a lot funnier in the trailer and it is actually a much more serious film, like Almost Famous - reviewed here! – than it is a comedy), the more I think about the film, the less impressive its components are. In fact, while it initially reminded me of Freaks And Geeks (reviewed here!), it quickly becomes its own thing and it does a pretty unremarkable job at that.

In spring of 1987, after his girlfriend leaves him and his parents cut him off for the funding for the graduation gift they promised him, which would have allowed him to tour Europe with his best friend, James Brennan discovers he is not qualified for work anywhere. Armed with his Comparative Literature degree, he goes to work for the summer at Adventureland, a local amusement park. Relegated to running a game (which he quickly learns are all scams), James loafs his way through his job with the help of weed, beer and Joel. Rescued one day from a knife-wielding patron by Em (Emily), he finds himself instantly attracted to the young woman.

Despite James being a virgin, Em finds she is interested in James as well, though she is having an affair with Mike, Adventureland’s maintenance man. Playing the field in his own limited way with Lisa P., the rides operator all the guys at the park seem to want, James starts developing real feelings for Em. As the end of summer looms, disaster seems to be on the horizon for all of the workers at Adventureland.

Adventureland, for all of its problems, is not without its charms. James gives Em a mix tape of depressing music and has to constantly hide his erections from her (and her family). As well, there are some decent lines, like Em telling her stepmother that the friend her stepmother is talking up to Em once violated the family cat with a pen. The writing, done by director Greg Mottola, has a decent eye for irony – like the story of Em’s father’s relationships – but he fails to make any of the characters truly empathetic in Adventureland.

On the acting front, Adventureland is the product of decent casting more than anything even close to resembling good performances. The peak of the acting actually comes from Kristen Stewart, who is otherwise utterly uninspired in the film. However, during an early scene as she (as Em) drives James, listening in silence to the song on the mix tape he made, she expressed with her body language a vast depth of turmoil and longing and she nails it. The rest of the time, she is stiff or presents nothing viewers did not already see from her as the angsty Bella Swan in New Moon (reviewed here!).

Similarly, Jesse Eisenberg, whose work I usually enjoy, is essentially playing the same character he did in The Squid And The Whale (reviewed here!). He is uncharacteristically stiff as James and he exhibits little real passion on screen in Adventureland. His on-screen chemistry with Kristen Stewart is very hard to gauge as both seem standoffish on their own and that does not change in the scenes they share. Also surprisingly lukewarm is Ryan Reynolds. Usually charismatic, Reynolds phones in his performance as the lothario Mike. Even Kristen Wiig seems to be off her game as the co-manager of Adventureland.

Adventureland is an inconsistent period piece that never commits to being funny or presenting any of its characters in a light that one really wants to root for them. In the end, Adventureland is like the summer job it portrays; you spend your time watching it, but it doesn’t add up to anything of consequence in the grand scheme of things.

For other works that Josh Pais is in, please visit my reviews of:
Gentlemen Broncos
A Beautiful Mind
“The Magnificent Ferengi” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
“Business As Usual” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles


Check out how this movie stacks up against others that I have reviewed by visiting my Movie Review Index Page for a listing of my films based on ratings!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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