Written and directed by Greg Mottola Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Martin Starr, Ryan Reynolds, Bill Hader
Adventureland is Greg Mottola's third film, and his follow-up to Superbad. Those looking for a film like Superbad will be disappointed here, those more in the mood for a serio-comedy will be more than pleased. Superbad was a film written by Seth Rogen and Even Goldberg, and it was truly their film. With Adventureland, Mottola has written the script as well which he says is partly autobiographical, hence the film comes across as very personal.
The story follows a college grad, James Brennan, played by Eisenberg, who needs to earn some money over the summer if he is to go to university in New York as he has dreamed. Unfortunately his impressive academics can't score him a good job, so he has to spend the summer at Adventureland, a local amusement park that hires any willing applicants. The job is anything but glamorous, but it is here James will come out of his shell, make important friends, and meet his first love, Em, played by Kristen Stewart.
The film is being promoted as full-on comedy, but it is actually much more concerned with its characters than laughs. I was touched by how fair it was to each of its characters. Even Connell, played by Ryan Reynolds, who in any other movie would be a cardboard bad guy, is likable and easy to empathize with. He poses the main obstacle between James and Em's love, but Connell is far too sad and pathetic to be angry with. Reynolds plays him perfectly, making sure to avoid stereotypes, and to add an endearing sensitivity. The supporting cast is wonderful, and many of the characters get moments other movies wouldn't let them have. Joel (played by Apatow alum, Martin Starr) quickly bonds with James and becomes a sort of third wheel for the leads. During one scene, a bunch of employees are talking after work, quietly James and Em slip off to be alone. The camera then focuses on Joel as he notices and looks on, sad and lonely.
Eisenberg and Stewart are both superb and have a wonderfully unexpected chemistry on screen. I last saw Eisenberg in The Squid and the Whale, another brilliant film. His character in Adventureland is certainly similar, almost as if it is the same guy a few years later. It's hard to complain though as he may the the most likable awkward leading man this side of Michael Cera. His character, like all others in the movie are fully realized human beings and he really brings James to life. However it is Kristen Stewart who steals the show. She now joins the ranks of incredible young actresses such as Ellen Page or Olivia Thirlby who are going to have amazing careers. She makes Em one of the more memorable characters in recent comedies. She is smart, witty, vulnerable, confused and Stewart plays every little emotion as real as possible. This is a script in need of admiration as it actually understands the female lead rather than just involving her in the plot. In fact, all of the characters are understood and respected.
Each character is a flawed human being. Everyone makes mistakes, but they are good people and we care for them. In life, good people are doomed to do stupid things and hurt each other. Adventureland is a film that knows this and sees the big picture and is proud of our small triumphs, in spite of our many failures. The film takes place in 1987, and feels truly nostalgic. It is written and directed by a man in his 40s, but he does not degrade the teens and twenty somethings, like so many comedies have. He sees them as smart and thoughtful people worth telling real stories about. The young love in this film is treated with care far too rare in movies.
The film is very funny, but never in a ridiculous way. Nothing really happens that is out of the ordinary. The laughs are natural and never cheap. The movie is more of a drama than some might expect and it certainly fits in more with The Squid and the Whale (although they are quite different) than Superbad. Mottola shows lots of promise and I can't wait to see his next feature, Paul, which is written by and starring the Shaun of the Dead/Hot Fuzz guys Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (The drool inducing synopsis on IMDB for that one is "Two British comic-book geeks travel across the USA together"). Mottola has made a film where the young characters are realistic, flawed and beautiful. We care about them deeply, and for that the film maker should be praised. Adventureland is the most emotionally resonant comedy since Juno, and my favourite film of 2009 so far.