Adventureland (In Theatres)
All things considered, the most telling moment in any director’s career is the follow-up to their first major success. For some, this is the opportunity to capitalize on the momentum of a renowned film to branch out into something a little quirkier or less commercial. Disappointingly, most play it safe by self-consciously emulating the film that put them on the map only with a bigger budget, like Richard Kelly’s attempt to recapture the enigmatic charm of Donnie Darko with the pointlessly obtuse Southland Tales. Promisingly for a relatively inexperienced film director, Greg Mottola opted out of making a louder, more colourful Superbad-style comedy in favour of a surprisingly low-key and sweet film like Adventureland.
Adventureland focuses on dorky college graduate James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) and how, as a result of an unexpected cash shortage from his parents, he loses his chance to go on a European vacation with his friends. The year is 1987, well before Job Bank or Kijiji could help a fresh-faced undergrad, so he ends up spending his summer living at home and working for the lame amusement park of the film’s title.
James’ sudden change of plans is but one of many setbacks that befalls him over the course of Adventureland. For every little victory that comes his way, like the free weed he gets from a college buddy, or his instant rapport with sardonic co-worker Joel (Martin Starr), James still falls victim to the childish pranks of a former friend (Matt Bush) and the constant radio play given to Falco’s “Rock Me, Amadeus” (despite that song already being a couple of years old by the film’s timeline). Even Em (Kristen Stewart), the cool Lou Reed fan and designated love interest, is juggling James’ affections alongside her secret affair with Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds), a struggling musician whose life and marriage is circling down the drain.
Seems like poor James is little more than Charlie Brown with four years of the book learnin’.
Most of you can guess where the film is going from that synopsis. James, despite being a slightly pretentious and awkward virgin, is still going to win the affections of Em, but that’s not really the point. Writer-director Mottola gets around the film’s conventions and its occasionally droopy pacing with some very funny gags and a strong cast. That’s right, even Ryan “the poor man’s Jason Lee” Reynolds. That Mottola manages to get Macro from The Odyssey to act for once proves he’s good with actors. The film isn’t perfect, but it’s likeable and sweet, which elevates it above nearly everything else that’s at the cineplex right now.