The peculiar brand of mainstream comedy films heralded by the likes of Judd Apatow in 2005 and Greg Mottala in 2007 is most impressive for the fact that their directors and the people involved are not obliged to milk the same crass joke until the charismatic lead decides to try a dramatic role and is promptly swept under the rug. The good comedy team will hit a stride and then dabble with the established formula for something appreciably different while still being familiar in each iteration, while the bad comedy team will hit a stride and then see how many times they can change the paintwork before someone notices (see: Talladega Nights, Semi-Pro, or Blades of Glory [actually, only see one because they're all the same bloody movie, just focusing on a different sport]). Greg Mottala's Adventureland is as much Superbad 2 as it is something else entirely fresh and new.
Adventureland is the summer of 1987 as seen through the eyes of James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), a pedantic sort who dreams of graduate school in New York but is unfortunately resigned to a summer job since adverse times have left his family without the fabulous wealth that could afford it. To raise funds, he accepts a job as a carnie at the local theme-park and has the sort of magical summer helplessly romantic suburbanites dream of in between getting wasted and lamenting their parents. Over the course of his summer, he falls for Em (Kristen Stewart), a fellow carnie who is having trysts with the park's married mechanic, Connell (Ryan Reynolds), and navigates relationships with other quirky employees in what is the narrative equivalent of bumper-cars.
Whereas Superbad, Greg Mottola's only other noteworthy film, was spirited and light-hearted, Adventureland is markedly different in that the emotional factors are rather heavy. The summer is filled with bickering, quarrels, and gossip, and the tone, coupled with the somewhat melodramatic nostalgic song selection, is quite weighty. If you were expecting a comedy, uproarious or otherwise, prepare to be disappointed because Adventureland is far more a drama sprinkled with occasional punch-lines than a comedy driven by a relationship. This doesn't mean the film is bad, it just means that I had my expectations crossed. When you accept what the film is and when Adventureland does hit its stride, it does manage to realize the majority of its ambitions (truth be told, the early pacing is far too sluggish regardless of genre).
You'll quickly notice how some characters embrace the fashion train-wreck that is the 1980's while some more or less avoid it.
Without question, the strongest part of Adventureland is the actors and their characterization. For its genre, the film really is quite peerless in its depth. Every character is fully realized and convincingly shaped within the films duration, and they are all expertly played. It's building on what Superbad did right and adding a few new elements of its own. James Brennan is Seth and Evan rolled into one and sent back in time twenty years (both in appearance and attitude), and Em is the amalgamation of Rebecca and Jules who is more aggressive and fully defined. Park owner Bobby (Bill Hader) is Superbad's cops only pushed back into a supporting position, Connell is placed as a slight antagonist, and the secondary cast are all developed beyond padded bit players.
It's just unfortunate that for everything Adventureland does right, the film has to be crippled by a flaw too apparent to forgive. You see, there are moments when Adventureland truly engages me, but those moments are far too short lived. Just as I, a person who is more or less exactly like these characters (only separated from them by a couple of decades) beings to identify with their problems, someone will give someone else a mix-tape or offer an invitation to a Judas Priest concert or talk about the car they want that is so technologically advanced thanks to its compact disc player, and the film promptly reminds me that I'm not a member of its target audience. These nuances certainly authenticate the experience, but it also drastically diminishes the appeal of the film to people who either don't care about the eighties or were still in the making at that point. There are certain generational gaps Adventureland manages to cross, but it's ultimately a product for people who grew up in the era it depicts. Anyone will be able to get the jokes and humour, but there a certain people who it will resonate with far more strongly. It's actually quite the double-edged sword.
I really shouldn't complain that much since writer/director Greg Mottola already gave me the film that would've summed up my life rather succinctly providing I was ever the sort to actively pursue relationships with other people, so if anything I appreciate the sentiment and the fact that his films attempt to cater to disparate generations quite effectively. Simply put, what made Superbad engaging for everyone (the sharp and poignant dialogue, the rapid fire delivery, the lively energy and soundtrack) has been replaced with something a little more leisurely and a little more heartfelt*. Adventureland is a great film if you're in your late 30's/early 40's, and a good film for everyone else.
*Christ I hate using that word
Nice review. I was hoping this would be a funny comedy like Superbad, but it still sounds good - I'll probably see it at some point.
Good stuff. I'm quite looking forward to this movie. The guy to me seems like Cera lite, but the girl is cute(and has this stoner chic thing going which I dig) and Bill Hader is always funny.
I also loved though superbad was all types of brilliant, so the follow up is basically a must-see.
Heartfelt... the bastard word of movie critics when talking about almost ANYTHING.
I'll let you go on that today, but only since I'm about ready to post my next review. It put me in a good mood. Well written, good explanations and such. It isn't my cup of tea by the sound of it, but I'll give it a shot at some point.
Nice review. Just saw this movie tonight, and it totally blew me away. I was exciting a comedy more along the lines of "Superbad", instead I got a fantastic "Graduate" redux with fantastic music (so much Lou Reed!) and genuinely funny and interesting characters. It's really got the heart of a film that you only will ever see in your local arthouse theater, except this one got a wide release. That's awesome.
Follow the above recommendation: see it.
Pretty dead on review. I went in expecting "comedy, uproarious or otherwise" also.