The guys at Filmspotting have pointed out that Adventureland completes the Jesse Eisenberg coming-of-age movies trilogy, begun with Roger Dodger and continued with The Squid and the Whale. They adore Eisenberg and they adore Adventureland.
I wish I could say the same. Don’t get me wrong, I think Adventureland is a solid renter, and it’s the type of movie that I fear will stop being made in the current economic climate. Written and directed by Greg Mottola (Superbad), it’s clearly semi-autobiographical. The details about working in a rundown amusement park in 1987 are too spot-on. But as hard as the dialogue wants to be witty, and as much as Mottola wants you to root for the characters, I had a hard time getting emotionally involved.
There’s just something a little off about the whole thing, which is perfectly encapsulated by Ryan Reynolds’ performance as the maintenance guy who cheats on his wife with the girls who work at the park. Reynolds plays only sympathetic from frame one, instead of waiting to reveal vulnerability, and so never is an effective villain. There are stakes — will Eisenberg’s James find love with Kristen Stewart’s Em? — but the ambivalence of both characters makes this question seem less-than-urgent. Throw in two mostly-unfunny cameos by SNL cast members Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, and you have a movie about a lazy summer that has too much lazy in it.
None of these flaws are fatal. The movie does succeed mightily in what must’ve been one its major goals: capturing the ennui of mid-college and post-graduate summers. Kristen Stewart has both the beauty to hold the big screen’s attention and the acting chops to deserve it. It is her character of Em, not Eisenberg’s James, that has the real dramatic conflicts of the movie. Side characters, like spaz Tommy Frigo (Matt Bush), fatalist intellectual Joel (Martin Starr) and ‘it girl’ Lisa P (Margarita Levieva) also make a strong impression.
Co-produced by the now-curtailed Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, which in its heyday only made good, commercially-questionable films, and Ted Hope’s This is That Productions (and with distribution by Miramax), Adventureland is almost too well-produced. The soundtrack sounds expensive, the camerawork is polished, the cast full of familiar faces. But it’s the rough edges of these kind of stories that hold the most appeal. It is for Adventureland‘s rough edges that I recommend it.