Sunday, April 5, 2009

9 things I liked about Adventureland

1) With all of the muscle cars parked in front of the cineplex, everyone else was going to see Fast and Furious last Friday.  Those watching Adventureland comprised a total of six.  With all of the testosterone conveniently elsewhere, we felt lucky.

2) With no vampires in sight, Kristen Stewart holds her own as the self-loathing, sleepy-eyed Em, co-worker with graduate James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) in the games section of the cheesy amusement park Adventureland, set in Pittsburgh in 1987. 

3) Few movies evoke a period as skillfully as Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused, but Adventureland comes close (Fandango, American Graffiti and Fast Times at Ridgemont High also come to mind). All of the period details of Adventureland ring true: the prevalence of marijuana, the ghastly Foreigner cover band, the mother reading Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities, the Buzzcocks poster on the wall, and the endless minor degradations of spending one's summer in one's hometown (where's one's former best friend from the fourth grade greets you by punching you in the crotch).  James has already moved on from this world since he's been accepted to Columbia University grad school, but he's forced by financial necessity to slum around, sneaking beers and cleaning up vomit in the games booth. Even in comparison to the theatrics of Greg Mottola's previous film Superbad, Adventureland is singularly leisurely in its rhythms.  It feels like the most uncommercial of post-adolescent angst comedies.   

4) As Joel, the mordant co-worker who plans on using his interest in Russian Literature and Slavic languages to eventually get a job as a taxi driver some day, Martin Starr channels DeeDee Ramone and one of the Hanson brothers in Slapshot.  I have known people exactly like him, eager to bitterly acknowledge the  full crappiness of the world where they "are doing the work of pathetic lazy morons." Even when someone throws a corndog at his head, he steals every scene he's in.  

5) Although writer/director Mottola flirts with mocking the adults The Graduate-style, he never fully gives in to the temptation.  Adventureland has lead characters too close to maturity themselves to fully want to ridicule the authority figures.  When James has the opportunity to narc on his father for carrying a bottle of liquor in his car, he refrains. I was especially struck by how even the amusement park managers, Bobby and Paulette (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig), become semi-sympathetic as the film goes on.  Immersed every day amongst litterers, cheats (but then again the park cheats too), bullies, and vomiters, they often see the worst of humanity, but Bobby defends James with a baseball bat ("Give me a reason!  Give me a reason!  You don't know what I'm capable of!") when some goon threatens to beat James up.  Then Bobby coolly returns to discussing park business with Paulette. When James loses a "giant-ass panda" to some sneaky yokels, Bobby doesn't fire James even though he was supposed to.

6) Falco's "Rock Me Amadeus" makes for the perfect song to drive you insane through repetition.

7) As the fun-loving seductress, Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva) tries to lure James away from Em, and she has many of the guys in the park mooning over her physical charms, but there's one scene where she fully shows James how cruel she can be. She starts up an evil rumor about Em that quickly spreads throughout the park. When James confront Lisa about it, she replies by continuing to dance with ghastly, impersonal robotic efficiency on the edge of the carnival ride, as James walks away, disgusted.   It's a striking shot of a girl determined to be an alluring amusement no matter what.

8) Adventureland includes multiple songs by Lou Reed.

9) More than once, I had to work in a wood stove stand in an Ohio county amusement park every day for over a week.  The experience struck me as creepy and surreal, because once you have had your fill of "fun," then the park rapidly becomes something forced, garish, repetitive, and bizarre.  In this context, a place designed for cheap entertainment can become alienating and depressing quickly.  Even though the film ends happily, I give Greg Mottola credit for capturing that sensation in the course of Adventureland.

17 comments:

Sam Juliano said...

All excellent reasons for sure. I was surprised that I found this film as appealing as I did, especially since I absolutely loathed SUPERBAD. But of course it's a coming-of-age piece, and the humorous elements are mitigated by the more meaningful drama. It's a winner! Nice work here in deliniating it's considerable worth.

hokahey said...

I agree with your excellent observations. Your depiction of the unabashed Lisa is perfect. I'm still kind of recovering from this movie. It was very realistic - painfully so! Shabby amusement parks are such sad places!

FilmDr said...

Thanks, Sam,

I also liked this film more than Superbad. By the time the cops destroy a car, especially, I sensed that the former movie was something of a wish-fulfillment fantasy for its audience (while otherwise well done).

Thanks, Hokahey,

I liked the grim qualities of Adventureland. Bleak storylines often cheer me up, and James' semi-ironic self-awareness of his predicament gave me the impression that many of his problems are only temporary.

Rick Olson said...

1. Lou Reed songs -- talk about your alienation. Haven't seen this yet, but they would seem to be perfect.

2. I like the numbered review format you do.

3. It succinctly sums up a film.

FilmDr said...

Thanks Rick. I sometimes list my thoughts in part because people tend to gravitate more towards lists in the blogosphere (who knows why?), and also because it suits my short attention span.

hokahey said...

"Bleak storylines often cheer me up." This describes me as well. People don't understand me when I talk about how I love certain bleak movies.

Adventureland didn't depress me. I guess I was just caught off guard a little - expecting a little more lightness. Even in the last frame - James pulls back, hesitantly - and all the doubts about their future together seem to hang in that space between them.

FilmDr said...

I found the ending to be somewhat conventional, but also reminiscent of The Graduate, and, weirdly, The Last Seduction (also the use of the rain evokes the conclusion of Four Weddings and a Funeral). James finally asserts himself, but I liked the movie better when everything went badly awry back in Adventureland.

Karen said...

I gotta watch this movie. Soon!

reelartsy.blogspot.com

Danny King said...

The ending was conventional, but I still feel it was the right ending and it didn't ruin how good the other parts of this film were. Eisenberg and Stewart are terrific and this film really deserved to be seen by more people. I couldn't imagine who wouldn't enjoy it.

Jake said...

I watched this movie again on home video yesterday and this movie has become my guilty-pleasure-that-is-in-no-way-weak-enough-to-qualify-as-such delight of '09. People wanted another Superbad (a funny but bloated, absurdist fantasy that people touted as an honest coming-of-age tale) and instead they got exactly what they'd attributed to SB and didn't care. I was surprised with both viewings how, for a film set 20 years in the past, it is remarkably applicable to a number of young adults today besotted by financial troubles.

I'm also particularly impressed that, in a year featuring a Tarantino release, this has possibly the best use of music in its pitch-perfect usage of "Pale Blue Eyes."

FilmDr said...

Thanks, Jake. I was very impressed with Adventureland. I can appreciate its musical choices and Kristen Stewart's performance even more now that I've seen her endless emoting to lame mope rock in New Moon.

Jake said...

Say, Doc, I was wondering if you've seen Freaks and Geeks. I loved that you mentioned Martin Starr and how he stole the movie, and he did the very same on that tragically short-lived series when he was still a young teenager. And that's no mean feat, considering the amazing performances across the board, among them James Franco, Seth Rogen, Linda Cardinelli and Jason Segal. When I reviewed it I noticed that, where other high school or young adult shows are spoiling you if you can even identify with one character, but I saw some part of myself in every last one of the main cast of kids. It's become my go-to single season show, above even Firefly.

FilmDr said...

Thanks for asking, Jake. No, I've not seen Freaks and Geeks, although I heard that the show launched the careers of many of today's major comics. I usually don't want television to save time for movies.

Jake said...

Oh, I know that sentiment, believe me (every list I see lately for a best of the decade, particularly the ones that move outside the mainstream, only reminds me of how much I need to see of contemporary movies, to say nothing of all the classics I need to see. But I think you're missing out, as American TV this decade was often superior to Hollywood productions. Hell, The Wire was more the Great American Novel than the collective works of Mark Twain, and that wet thump you just heard was my gauntlet hitting the ground.

FilmDr said...

Very funny, Jake. Yes, I've heard that TV shows are often better than movies these days, but my basic problem is a reluctance to buy cable TV. I'm not arguing with you about that point, but it would be nicer all around if you left poor Twain out of it. I really like his Life on the Mississippi.

Jake said...

Oh, he's OK. I gave him a noogie before I posted that and he made an untoward comment about my mother. Until I got to read Flannery O'Connor's work my senior year of high school, Mark Twain was far and away my favorite writer whose work came up in the course of the various curricula of English classes. I don't have cable TV myself, but if you ever spot a good deal somewhere on seasons of The Wire, Six Feet Under, The Shield and the like, you simply have to try them. It helps to think of many of these programs as the spiritual children of the old serials, the kind Feuillade used to make a la Les Vampires (Jesus, I need to go outside occasionally).

But back to the Adventureland/Freaks and Geeks connection, if you liked the music of Dazed and Adventureland, then Freaks & Geeks is right up your alley. There's an entire episode built upon Who songs. The show languished for nearly 4 years after its cancellation before coming to home video because the music rights issues were insane.

FilmDr said...

Thanks for the recommendations, Jake. I will look into it.