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ADVENTURELAND (2009) ***1/2 movie review by COOP

Posted on April 7th, 2009
Posted on April 7th, 2009


Remember the summer job that you once hated, but in retrospect count it as one of the best times of your life? That’s what “Adventureland” is going for. As I watched it, I recalled a scene from “American Beauty” where Kevin Spacey’s character Lester laments his days as a teenager, flipping burgers and chasing girls; desperately wishing he could go back and relive those moments. If you’re like Lester and get warm and fuzzy feelings from reminiscing those long-lost summers, then “Adventureland” will surely strike a chord.

Taking place in 1987, recent college grad James (Jesse Eisenberg) hopes to plan his future while spending the summer backpacking across Europe with his rich friend Eric. When James’s money-strapped parents welch on helping him pay for his trip, James gets stuck working the midway games at Adventureland, a local dump of a theme park. Initially bummed at his situation, James becomes popular when the other employees find out James has a massive bag of joints he’s trying to get rid of. He also falls in love with alluring co-worker Em (Kristen Stewart) who reciprocates, but is dealing with some demons of her own. James must deal with irate customers, miserable working conditions, vicious rumors and his own immaturity in order to win Em’s heart and survive his summer at “Adventureland.”

After seeing the trailer, I completely misinterpreted the tone of this film. Instead of another non-stop laugh riot like Director Greg Mottola’s previous film “Superbad,” “Adventureland” is more like “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”… a sweet, coming-of-age, romantic, dramedy with the feel of an independent film. I’m sure Mottola and his team are frustrated by “Adventureland” not getting a bigger release. The higher-ups obviously didn’t know how to market it, so they included his name along with “Superbad” and showed only the funniest scenes in the trailer, completely underplaying the more prominent romance aspect. I hope audiences don’t feel cheated because I found myself delightfully surprised despite the unconscionable switcheroo.

Mottola picks from the best and brightest of Hollywood’s up-and-comers to round out the cast. Martin Starr plays Joel, the tobacco pipe smoking geek who becomes James’s best chum at the park. Ryan Reynolds takes an unusually subdued supporting role as Connell, the park’s cool maintenance guy who claims to have once jammed with Lou Reed. Margarita Levieva shows up halfway through as Lisa P., every employee’s dream girl who sets her sights on corrupting James. Matt Bush gets several gross-out laughs as the immature Frigo, who often feels compelled to humiliate James by hitting him in the groin. Bill Hader and Kristen Wigg get the biggest overall laughs as wacky park managers Bobby and Paulette.

Eisenberg and Stewart make a charismatic pair. His goofy and intellectual demeanor becomes disarmingly cool and at ease around her. He can’t detect her dark and secretive personality and it troubles her, even though she’s drawn to his innocence and spurious affection. Their relationship rings true but generates a bit too much melodrama towards the end, putting a damper on the fun. Regardless, these actors both have huge careers ahead of them, especially Stewart who has already scored a cult following from her role as Bella in the “Twilight” movie adaptation.

The real star of the movie is the music. Mottola gleans some of the best tunes of the 80’s era and uses each song to fill every scene with memories of days when MTV still showed music videos and Super Mario Bros. kept us out of the sunlight for weeks. Mottola sets up a running joke with the song “Rock Me Amadeus” in which the employees are driven crazy as the song is played ad nauseam over the park’s loudspeakers. As a bonus, “Adventureland” resonates with me on a nostalgic level through its music. Nearly every song reminded me of the days I listened to FM tunes by the pool while lifeguarding at the local country club. This thoughtful collection of songs gives the film an added spark that’s sure to please fans of the ‘80s.

For an R-rated comedy, “Adventureland” stays relatively clean. Aside from some swears and rampant pot smoking, it stays close to the PG-13 level, never dipping into the “Superbad” level of obscenity or gross-out humor. Instead, it opts for a sincere approach as a light comedy without mean-spirited antics and a coming of age story without pretense. Although it doesn’t reach the level of greatness that “Nick and Norah” accomplished last year, it’s a close contender. “Adventureland” is the best date movie so far of 2009.

Rating: 3 and ½ out of 5 stars

Trailer below (keep in mind the trailer shows the majority if the comedy scenes almost none of the romance/drama)…

-Coop

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