Adventureland (2009)

23 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Jesse Eisenberg is a talented, subtly humorous young actor whose wit may be dryer than Michael Cera’s, if you can believe that. The odd thing was that he was constantly confused for Michael Cera. That may have something to do with his awkwardness he brings to his young characters in movies such as “The Squid and the Whale,” but also because he happens to be in a movie directed by the director of “Superbad,” which happened to star Michael Cera. (And it was reported that a few high-school girls in fact did mistake the lead for Michael Cera. How about that.) Eisenberg is an appealing actor, and with his quick delivery, you know that he has this way of delivering one-liners almost like he’s at risk. That makes him funny and likeable. He delivers the lead performance in “Adventureland,” a coming-of-age comedy-drama about summer jobs, romance, relationships, and ups and downs with all of the above.

The lead roles in this movie are college-aged, but they are more intelligent and likeable then you would find in lowbrow college comedies. They are real people that we meet every day, and such characters star in this movie, which is funny and realistic. It’s funny for the most obvious reason—its script is funny. It mixes comedy with reality—the best kind of comedy writing you could ask for. OK, so there’s a dorky character that spends every scene flicking the main character in the groin, but even he seems realistic.

The movie is set in the year 1987 for no particular reason other than to have the song “Rock Me Amadeus” play in the background constantly. (Don’t worry—the characters find it annoying too.) Eisenberg plays James Brennan, a recent college graduate who wants to go to Europe with his friends. But his parents are short of funds, which means James must get a summer job. He picks working at Adventureland, a second-rate amusement park where the games are rigged, the employees are bored all the time, and the only good prize is a Giant Ass Panda, which no one should win because there aren’t many of them left. The park is run by a couple, played by Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig who deserve a movie of their own. They’re funny, but they don’t seem like they’re in the same movie as the other characters.

James becomes surprisingly popular, though that could have something to do with the joints that he passes around to others at work. James’ fellow employees are bored Joel (Martin Starr) and the attractive Em (Kristen Stewart). James and Em hang out together and have fun with each other. But there’s a problem—Em is having a secret affair with Adventureland’s maintenance man Connell (Ryan Reynolds), who is married and is said to have jammed with Lou Reed. (“Don’t believe everything you hear,” he tells James.) As “Adventureland” continues to play out, the relationship between James and Em develops further, causing Em to question her affair with Connell. This relationship between James and Em is the highlight of the movie—it’s richly written and complicated, without the usual clichés with romantic comedies. They are well-acted by Eisenberg and especially by Stewart, whose scenes of confrontation bring out the best performance of her career so far.

In year-end 2009, “Adventureland” hit a lot of critics’ best-of-the-year lists, but for me, the subplot involving the park owners and a few unnecessary scenes (yes, there are some) seemed like a different movie than what is supposed to be. I should give “Adventureland” three-and-a-half stars, but I am giving it three stars because of its faults and because of how I felt about it. I thought it was good, but not as great as it could have been.

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