Reel Shorts | Adventureland

3 04 2009

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Judging by the trailers and advance spots, it would be reasonable to expect another raunchy, crude sophomoric amusement comedy. While those qualities can be found in “Adventureland” the surprises is that it is so much more.

Set in 1987, recent college graduate James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) discovers that his planned trip to Europe and perhaps his tuition to grad school have been scrapped because of financial issues at home. Left with no prospects and nothing to do, James decides he needs a summer job but the problem is that he is overqualified for every available position. Armed only with a bag of weed, courtesy of his best friend, James gets a job at the amusement park, Adventureland.

Working at the park reunites James with his childhood best friend, Frigo (Matt Bush) who never misses an opportunity to trick his friend and punches him in the groin! For the serious, buttoned-up graduate, the theme park seems like another world. Assigned to work the “games” by quirky park owners Bobby (Bill Hader) and Paulette (Kristen Wiig), James in for a rude awakening. Thankfully, he is taken under the wings by a couple of the park’s veterans, nerdy extrovert, Joel (Martin Starr) and wise beyond her years free-spirit, Em (Kristin Stewart). In no time, James learns all of the secrets to the parks success including gluing the hats on mannequins so that customers have no chance to win.

He takes in interest in the young Em, who befriends James but also has a secret relationship with the park’s older handyman, Mike (Ryan Reynolds). Also a part-time musician, Mike keeps the park’s attractions in working order while dispensing life advice to James. Just when it appears that he has settled into his gig then does he meet the park’s star employee, the buxom flirty Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva), who spends much of her time at the park enticing male customers by performing impromptu dancing sets with a co-worker. Caught in the middle of two attractive women, each attracted to him because of his shy and unassuming manner, James learns lessons of loyalty, betrayal and deception over his own “personal summer of love.”

Written and directed by Greg Mottola, his coming-of-age period piece gets all of the small details right – the fashion, attitude, big hair and a ton of 80’s power ballads. His personal favorite was Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus,” which seemed to play all day during the park’s working hours. Promoted as a film by the makers of “Superbad,” moviegoers will be surprised that Mottola’s film is an insightful, exploration of finding love and in turn finding oneself.

The two leads, Eisenberg and Stewart possess winning chemistry even though her performance felt like a carbon copy of her work in “Twilight.” With that said, Stewart captures tortured teen angst much better than many of her peers. Even Reynolds gives a restrained yet effective tale in truncated role. Much like writer/director John Hughes, who tapped into that identical sense of awkward confusion in several hit 80’s films, Mottola’s characters are all miserable underneath and they find strength in the knowledge that they are ALL screwed up.

The end result is a warm, funny story that shows that even in the most awkward periods of our lives that is a ray of hope, if we can find it. Life may sometimes punch you in the groin, but if we’re lucky we can always reflect back on the “Adventureland” of our lives!

Grade: B

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