Filmed before the first Twilight, yet released in its formidable wake, Adventureland is destined to be a relatively minor entry on Kristen Stewart’s CV.
It’s also sure to feature fairly low on Jesse Eisenberg’s resumé, especially if he follows recent hit Zombieland with more flashy crowd-pleasers.
Nor will it be the first movie people associate with Superbad director Greg Mottola, even if he did draw on his own youth to make this nostalgic tale of a college graduate who takes a demeaning vacation job at a rundown amusement park to pay for the trip to Europe that his penny-pinching olds have denied him.
But chances are that this will be one of those movies, like Say Anything, The Sure Thing or Dazed And Confused, that punters periodically rediscover and take to their hearts. It’ll be one of those films that people recommend to their friends or quote at parties (“No one ever wins a giant-ass panda!”). Hell, it might even inspire copycat instances of surprise crotch punching, an everyday hazard for gawky hero James thanks to his madcap neighbour Tommy Frigo (a scene-stealing Matt Bush, seen urinating up a window at one point and firing flares at imaginary Viet Cong at another). Well, maybe things won’t go that far.
But even while you’re watching it, there’s a sense that Adventureland will remain with you, especially if you’ve been lucky enough to experience a golden, transformative summer like the one depicted here. It’s certainly a much more authentic look at young romance than the fanciful chastity of Twilight and New Moon, Eisenberg’s virginal pash for Stewart’s well-seasoned Em scoring points for its acceptance of sex as a fact of life rather than a forbidden fruit. It also gets an extra star for acknowledging, like (500) Days Of Summer, that youthful heartbreak is as much a part of the growing process as your first shag, toke or booze-fuelled rumpus.
OK, so there’s not a great deal here we haven’t seen before. What Adventureland does, however, is repackage its standard elements with enough dry humour, colourful turns and well-observed period detail to make it feel fresh. Mottola’s movie particularly shines in the latter department, cramming its soundtrack with one evocative tune after another – ‘Rock Me Amadeus’ by Falco, ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ by Crowded House – while revelling in the big hair, acid-washed jeans and all the other crimes of fashion that were part and parcel of the decade that taste forgot.
But this is not, as the director insists in the Just My Life Making Of doc, “a long, cheap joke at the expense of the ’80s.” Rather it’s a paean to a more innocent age – one near enough to be familiar yet distant enough to be amusingly kitsch. No stranger to playing confused, vulnerable adolescents (see also Roger Dodger and The Squid And The Whale, another highly personal work culled from its writer/director’s own life), Eisenberg’s in his element as the intelligent, articulate, yet easily bruised James. As Mottola affectionately puts it, “[He] has a way of playing directors in their awkward phases.”
Stewart, too, plays the troubled Em to perfection, while Ryan Reynolds atones for The Proposal with a nuanced portrayal of her older, married beau. (“He’s very romantic, in a negative way,” explains the Canadian actor.) Elsewhere, Spread’s Margarita Levieva impresses as theme park hottie Lisa P, while Martin Starr contributes a priceless cameo as bespectacled, pipe-puffing oddball Joel. (“The world is my oyster,” he deadpans as he lists the potential careers his degree in Russian literature and Slavic languages makes him ideal for: “cabby, hot dog vendor, marijuana delivery guy”.)
Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, meanwhile, make a terrific double act as the park’s struggling owners, the former sporting a porn star ’tache that Ron Jeremy would be thrilled to call his own. “The moustache says it all,” concedes the Superbad cast member on the doc, revealing how he had to tone down his character’s other eccentricities to compensate for his outlandish face fur.
Saturday Night Live duo Hader and Wiig’s improvisations make up two of three deleted scenes, brief snippets that can be watched with or without some rather redundant remarks from Mottola and Eisenberg. The pair’s joint commentary on the main feature makes for a better listen, despite the director’s shrugging admission that they won’t be providing any “Scorsese-esque insights into filmmaking”.
Going on to acknowledge the impact of Woody Allen (with whom he worked on Celebrity and Hollywood Ending) and “comedy Cassavetes” Judd Apatow on his work, Mottola jokingly says that if he had been asked to produce a director’s cut it would have been 10 minutes shorter. He also tells how he was obliged to invent an entirely new arcade game by rights-withholding games companies fearful of his movie’s fleeting drugs content.
Couldn’t he have won them over with a giant-ass panda?
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