Adventureland (2009) dir, Greg Mottola
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Jesse Eisenberg, Bill Hader, Kristin Wiig
As for nostalgic coming-of-age films “Adventureland” sits above the pretentious ‘Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist’ and below the joyously rambunctious ‘Superbad’ and way below the true classics ‘Dazed and Confused’ and ‘American Graffiti.’ Perhaps it isn’t fair to compare these films, but with such similar and familiar territory it's inevitable.
Jesse Eisenberg plays awkward geek Columbia student James Brennon, anticipating his summer trip to Europe to soak up all the romance and sophistication he desires. But when his parents tell him they’re short on cash and he’s forced to work at the local Pittsburgh amusement park his life comes crashing down. The overachieving James watches the slacker carny characters with an air of intellectual superiority. But when he meets another brooding teenager, Em (Kristin Stewart) who seems as disaffected by her job as is he, he’s instantly smitten. They start hanging out and soon become a couple.
Little does James know that Em is friends-with-benefits with the arrogant and passive aggressive theme park hunk Mike (Ryan Reynolds). With another hotter gal tempting James, his choices become more difficult. Oh the complications of youth. As Em and James get closer, the bigger Em’s lie gets. And the bigger the lie, the sadder the break-up when the truth comes to light.
Bill Hader and Kristin Wiig – comic relief for rent du jour – play the pathetic gung-ho managers of the park. Their appearances are staggered at specific points throughout the film like those stand-up comedians warming up a crowd before it gets dull. The fact is despite the trailer marketing “Adventureland” is barely a comedy.
The film is set in the 80’s, for no particularly reason except, because likely it was based on writer Mottola’s personal experiences. Other than the hip anti-pop period music, the film is invisible to the era.
Kristin Stewart’s character is a wet blanket most of the time – barely smiling even when she’s at the height of her romantic bliss with James. We can only sense her self-loathing for cheating with Mike. If we truly sympathized with Em’s predicament we would understand Em’s demeanour. Unfortunately the dosmetic squabbles with her parents, which appear to be the basis of her discontent, never really link up with her actions.
As our hero, Jesse Eisenberg comes off an obvious second-tier Michael Cera – copping his shy awkward geek-chic cuteness. At first this was distracting, knowing the film was directed by Cera’s “Superbad” director Greg Mottola, but gradually as the film moves along Eisenberg respectfully earns the role for himself. And thus, despite the familiarity, "Adventureland" managed to wriggle under my skin.