Friday, July 12, 2013


ADVENTURELAND             A-                    
USA  (107 mi)  2009  d:  Greg Mottola                 Official Site

They hate people like me in Pittsburgh.  I’m a romantic who actually reads poetry for fun. 
—James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg)

What appears to be a cliché’d and formulaic summer romance story where the majority of the characters, especially the adults, resemble life on sitcom TV, instead turns into something decidedly different where the major players are surprisingly authentic, especially the way they express their self doubts, which is what this is really all about.  While for most, TWILIGHT (2008) would be the door to discovering Kristen Stewart, but in my case it was INTO THE WILD and THE CAKE EATERS, two 2007 releases both shot earlier which along with her performance here reveal a surprising range on her part.  She plays Em, an alienated girl with a dark edge that she doesn’t really like about herself, as much of it is in reaction to the shit and lovelessness that has been imposed upon her tender young age, but it’s where she’s forced to spend most of her time, so it follows her like a dark shadow.  Into her life strolls James, Jesse Eisenberg, the horrid “I hate my mom” character from THE SQUID AND THE WHALE (2005), an overly naïve but nice kid who’s so nervous most of the time that he confesses his most intimate secrets to total strangers.  They’re an odd couple, as they don’t really fit, and she’s more mature and having an affair with the married Clu Galager type repairman/would-be-indie-rock-star (Ryan Reynolds) who simply gets into her pants whenever he has a spare moment.  They all find themselves working together at a run down amusement park called Adventureland during the summer of 1987 in Pittsburgh, a horrible place where dreams seem to die.   

Backtracking a bit, James was heading to grad school at Columbia University in the fall on a scholarship, but his plans change drastically when his closet alcoholic father gets transferred to a less lucrative position.  So instead of traveling to Europe with a friend over the summer where he hoped to get laid and get the virgin stigma off his back, he has to get a job to help pay his way and let his friend travel without him, leaving him a large sack of good weed which he hopes will help keep him relaxed over the summer, where in the fall they plan to be roommates in New York City.  With no real job experience, the only available job is at a hole-in-the-wall amusement park that seems run by the last vestiges of humanity left on earth after the apocalypse, as no one in their right mind would work there willingly.  But instead of another obnoxious summer movie laden with grotesque physical comedy, that’s only the undercard to what turns out to be the bigger picture, a tender, coming-of-age love story that develops from the bowels of this hell on earth, a place where the same horrid songs repeat endlessly, like Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” Falco - Rock Me Amadeus: Best song in the World - YouTube (3:25), and the games are rigged to guarantee nobody wins the big panda bear as a prize.  Despite hundreds of reasons why anyone should hate this movie, with plenty of barf and getting socked in the balls jokes along with exaggerated caricature, where every adult is typecast as a humorless strain of human species, where life is taken *way* too seriously, from their offspring breeds hope eternal.  From this doomed and broken down amusement park filled with people with stagnant and dead end lives, the characters of James and Em turn out to really mean something, as they’re authentic voices of a voiceless generation, similar but hardly equal to DONNIE DARKO (2001), as both are brilliantly edited films set in the 1980’s featuring a treasuretrove of imminently listenable music.  Here the soundtrack is filled with Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, the New York Dolls, the Replacements, Hüsker Dü, The Cure, Crowded House, Poison and others along with an ambitious score written by Yo La Tengo, contributing especially memorable sequences, like Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream it’s Over” Adventureland - Fireworks Clip - YouTube (2:37) as fireworks explode over James and Em on the 4th of July, or Robert Smith singing Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” Ruma - Adventureland - YouTube (2:25, playing here over the movie trailer) as the two of them ecstatically play bumper cars together.  

Add to this motley crew the downhearted voice of nihilism, Joel (Martin Starr), even more geeky than James, a guy enthralled with the anguish of Russian literature, in particular Nikolai Gogol who all but destroyed romantic notions with monstrous imagery where no human horror is left unspared.  As this group spends time together, more a collection of random acts than a story, James is actually one of the least fucked up among them, which gives him a kind of star attraction, a pedestal upon which he’s never stepped before, as people actually like him for his open-hearted sincerity and endlessly youthful curiosity.  He’s a good kid, but he’s surrounded by people that have only known deadbeats, phonies and bullies.  Sincerity is like from another planet, as it may as well not exist, any more than hope in a prison-like environment where the thought of it can only make you feel worse.  But this perfectly balanced mixture of humor and emotional authenticity is beautifully captured in the dialogue written by the director who not surprisingly himself once worked at a Long Island amusement park.  Kristen Stewart, especially, has become the “it” girl and is especially good as a troubled teen who has to keep everything bottled up inside, where James and his endless monologues about himself actually offer her a way out of her own inner doldrums.  James, she feels, is the last person who would hurt her, and her life has been flattened by people who used her for a door mat.  Stewart is a kind of everywoman, as we’ve all known someone like her, but she’s immensely appealing in the way she keeps struggling to fight her way out.  Eisenberg is youthfully innocent, but he’s given terrific lines, all of which add up to a real surprise, as this film delivers on several different levels, beautifully acted, musically inspiring, well-written with large doses of observational honesty, not the least of which is a wonderfully authentic summer romance set amongst the doom and devastation of near impossible odds, filled with people who have been hurt to the point where this film feels like its carrying the banner of lost causes, where the ultimate goal feels like the resuscitation of lost or otherwise dead souls.  

Original music for Adventureland by Yo La Tengo

Songs from the trailer:
Song from the commercial:
Song from Kiis FM radio commercial

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