Adventureland

by | Aug 25th, 2009 | 8:00AM | Filed under: DVD Reviews

Adventureland_2625 What clouds the mind more firmly — and, perhaps, more sweetly — than nostalgia? In the '80s-set comedy Adventureland, writer-director Greg Mottola (The Daytrippers, Superbad) doesn't quite fall into the numb fog of remembrance to the degree you might expect, and while it doesn't hit below the belt, it doesn't pull many punches, either. James Brennan (Jesse Eisneberg) is a recent college graduate who's been thrown a curve by life. In the mid-'80s, James has his plans for a summer European tour before grad school dashed by his dad's recent transfer at work — and, worse, grad school itself may not be doable unless James can make some money. Of course, a degree in comparative literature doesn’t really translate to the summer job market (as James notes "I'm not even qualified for manual labor. …"), and soon James finds himself running a games booth at Adventureland, the local funfair that gives James a crash course in the real world.

Mottola's looks at the present-day in films like The Daytrippers and Superbad have occasionally had that bright, squinty, so-true-it-hurts edge, but Adventureland, looking through the misty, water-colored memories of the way we were, has a gentler feel to it. Note 'gentler' and not necessarily 'gentle'; as James enters the social sphere of Adventureland, he meets co-workers like Em (Kristen Stewart), a bohemian beauty adrift in the bottle-toss booth and Joel (Martin Starr), a sneering intellectual given to judging the world as he peers over the bowl of his perfectly pretentious pipe, and Connell (Ryan Reynolds), the handyman who can fix anything but, it seems, his mistakes.

Mottola himself worked at a similar park in 1985, and his eye and ear for the period are both superbly honed. The fashion choices are evocative without being fake, and the music is pitch-perfect; the film begins and ends with The Replacements and stops everywhere in-between from Falco to The Velvet Underground and Crowded House. None of this ever feels forced, and it's a credit to Mottola's direction that the moments where things seem a little too perfectly crafted are matched by relaxed, calmer moments where the actual characters and the situations speak for themselves. Mottola explains in the excellent making-of featurette on the DVD that "we didn't want to make a film that was one long joke at the expense of the '80s, " and he never does, even as you're laughing at the occasional acid-wash and neon-leopard-print outfit that comes on-screen.

The actors are all great, too. Eisenberg plays James like the adolescent version of a Woody Allen character — the neurotic everyman — and he has a way of turning his stutters and stammers into jazz riffs made of pauses and pitfalls. Stewart trns what could have been the thankless role of 'the girl' into a real and rich character instead of a character. And the supporting cast — including Bill Hader as the socks-and-shorts, mustache-wearing manager, clueless and caring (at one point, when James is screwing up running one of the games, Hader asks Eisenberg "You doing pot? You drinking drugs?") — is also excellent.

Adventureland includes three deleted scenes and full commentary from Mottola and Eisenberg; the commentary track is funny and relaxed, as the writer-director and his surrogate chat about the film, but it's also informative and insightful (even though, early on, Mottola says "You're not getting Martin Scorsese-level insight into this movie" before doing a dead-on Scorsese imitation). Despite all their protestations to the contrary, Eisenberg and Mottola are good people to listen to for 107 minutes. Adventureland is about the way your first, worst job can often do more to define you than your later, better-suited professional endeavors, and how growing up isn't about not making mistakes but rather about making them, learning from them and moving on. Adventureland hits a hard-to-define sweet-spot few movies get; it's wistful and warm yet funny and fast, and while it may play better for those who survived the Reagan years than it does for those who didn't live through that time, it's still a great demonstration of the surprising and somehow hopeful fact that minimum wages can often lead to maximum possibilities.


44 Responses to “Adventureland

  1. timothy
    Posted on September 1, 2009 at 11:42 pm

    Oh yeah, redbox rocks!

  2. Eric
    Posted on September 2, 2009 at 7:41 am

    I loved this movie too! Whole-heartedly agree with timothy’s comments.

  3. Laura
    Posted on September 2, 2009 at 7:48 am

    HORRIBLE!! We shut it off halfway through. The most boring movie I’ve ever kinda-seen. And I grew up in the 80′s so that is no excuse! How anyone could call this a comedy is beyond me. They must not have a sense of humor.

  4. jfewell
    Posted on September 2, 2009 at 8:53 am

    This movie goes to show that if you put a few known comedic actors in a movie, there doesn’t have to be a point. By far one of the worst movies of 2009. Thank goodness redbox is saving people from wasting 4-5 dollars on this rental.

  5. EDMEXICAN
    Posted on September 2, 2009 at 9:38 am

    Jimmy the movie sucked if I want great music I will listen on my Ipod~ It was a bore! They used the names of the cast to sell this P.O.S. I was not expecting this, you can tell the cast tried but the writting was AWFUL! Then again like I told my spouse, what do we expect for a buck.

  6. Melinda
    Posted on September 2, 2009 at 10:03 am

    The dumbest part ever was the two girls that danced throughout the whole movie STUPID!!!The funniest part through out the whole movie was when James boss came out of the trailer with the bat and chased the bad guy away other than that this movie was BORING!!!!!!!

  7. Bethany
    Posted on September 2, 2009 at 10:40 am

    I liked this movie, but it was not a comedy. It wasn’t even dramedy. I think they pulled out the funny parts for the trailers, which misled a lot of people. Maybe they were afraid if they billed it as a coming-of-age story they wouldn’t pull in money at the box office. However, if I’d gone to see it in the theatre, I’d've been pretty ticked off. As it is, I rented it from Redbox and enjoyed it, though I was expecting someone to commit suicide by the end of it.
    So, good movie, but BOOO! on the studio for so drastically misleading the audience with their advertising.

  8. Ken Chenault
    Posted on September 2, 2009 at 11:29 am

    Sorry, I guessed wrong on the meaning of “droll” and the spelling as well. Not a word I normally use. Let me restate. This was a very drab, slow moving, unintersting, and overall humorless look at the 80′s. Also, to be clear, when the review says hilarious, I do expect lots and lots of belly laughs, and I haven’t seen Superbad, so I wasn’t expecting that. This movie is not a comedy and should not have been marketed as such. It was time I could have been sleeping or something just as important.

  9. Toto
    Posted on September 2, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    I want my 1 dollar and my 1 hour and 50 min. of life back! stay away of this one.

  10. nate
    Posted on September 2, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    i thought it was very boring & had been done before. i usually like these types of movies, but i regretted renting this. oh & i didn’t think the lead actor was very good either. the movie was just not very funny & very predictable in my opinion. a waste of time.

  11. nate
    Posted on September 2, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    oh yeah the music was good, but i’ve heard it all before & own most of it. music doesn’t make a movie. atleast it sure didn’t make this one! someone should have told them this.

  12. michael steen
    Posted on September 2, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    Adventureland is a Great film. Little Miss Sunshine, Napoleon Dynamite, Raising Arizona are a few independent movies that reached excellence, welcome Adventureland in to this small circle of Indy greats. Warning to film fans wanting burping, farting, and nudity, this is an intelligent movie. This a moving film with charactors that are likeable, easy to identify with, and so easy to cheer them on. Bravo

  13. N
    Posted on September 2, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    I thought it was pretty dumb. It wasn’t all that bad thought. It was a movie worth watching to watch a movie ,but it’s not really worth buying and watching over and over.
    It has some what of a story ,but bad acting.

  14. Melissa
    Posted on September 3, 2009 at 12:56 am

    Ok, seriously, how can anybody say this movie was good? I was born in the late 80s, so don’t have much recollection of them, but still, this movie sucked. I agree with a previous writer, save your dollar!

  15. JRBear
    Posted on September 4, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    “If it helps at all with the “cop-out” part, JRBear, the writer-director Mottola has said he gives James and Em about a year, tops, before the film’s “happy ending” goes sour.”
    thanks Locke, i missed that. was it in the film or the ‘making of’ feature?
    Girls like Em feel ‘uncomfortable’ around ‘good guys’ like James. It makes them too self aware of their ‘badness’, which is why she liked the un-available married guy in the 1st place. (in my experience)The scene where she spends the evening with ‘good boy’ James and likes him as a person, then goes straight to the bar to drink and have sex to ‘get over it’ to me was the truest scene in the movie.
    The ‘making of’ was really good, it showed that the director/creator looked exactly like an older version of the nerdy guy with glasses that couldn’t score with the Irish girl, not the handsome lead actor.
    So, it being ‘his movie’ he got to be the ‘lead’, not the support player. Actually, would it have been a better movie if the “nerdy guy” WAS the lead? After seeing this, I got the feeling the movie was his more his fantasy, or his observation of the lead character.

  16. Kevin (Ket)
    Posted on September 5, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    I didn’t think the movie was bad. But I did not know that the movie was marketed as a comedy until after the movie when a friend told me it was marketed as the next “Superbad”. Personally, considering all the 2 hour toy commercials that pass themselves off as feature films these days, I thought “Adventureland” was a fresh change of pace for trying to be honest about the lousy situation the characters are in.
    The only real tragedy is that the marketers felt that audiences could not be trusted to watch the film if they did not advertise it as a vomit comedy.

  17. james
    Posted on September 7, 2009 at 3:10 am

    well i say ive seen this movie about 3 times now and each time i think it gets better you understand each character aa little more and ya it might not have the retarded stuff that classify as comady nowadays but overall people shouldn’t compare this with superbad, dont get me wrong superbad is a good movie but it was a childish movie the kids were still in high school, adventure land went with a more mature view. so if your into childish comady then movie is for you but if you want to see a good story about this one kid taking a summer job and having the time of his life and falling in love and dealing with problems that we all face then this movie is for you but like what others said if you cant sit and watch a movie that doesnt have a fart,puck,sex, or any other stupid joke every 6 minutes then its not for you

  18. james
    Posted on September 7, 2009 at 3:13 am

    sorry last post for got to put the not in “if you like childish this move is NOT for you

  19. Ray Watson
    Posted on October 21, 2009 at 9:42 am

    I saw this movie a while back but it was so bad that I cannot remember what it was about. I only recognize one of the actors. It could not suck enough. Avoid at all cost. A total waste of my time.