Sunday, April 05, 2009

Take a familiar but fun trip to "Adventureland"

A film that rates right up there with Hollywood's best romances. Kristen Stewart deserves an Oscar nomination, as does writer-director Greg Mottola.

I offer that little bit of hyperbole from a Rotten Tomatoes critic who shall remain nameless as entry to discuss Greg Mottola's "Adventureland," a movie that's refreshingly and almost thoroughly entertaining as much for what it is as for what it isn't.

Despite the sentiments expressed above, it certainly isn't a grand romance. And neither, despite the very funny bits you've probably seen in advance from Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, is it a straight-out comedy that will often have you laughing out loud.

But, at its best, it is a sweet little slice of life, reflected through the romantic lens of memory, and for that it stands out from the current crop of R-rated comedies even as it embraces many of its conventions.

In what I believe is at least a semi-autobiographical tale, Mottola takes us to the titular theme park, where James Brennan (a pensively scruffy Jesse Eisenberg, in a role not removed much at all from what he played in "The Squid and the Whale") is forced to seek employment the summer after college when his parents (Jack Gilpin and Wendie Malick) inform him they won't be able to fund his planned trip to Europe or, well, much of anything.

If we all haven't been exactly there, we've probably been close. For me it was a job at a "Mexican" restaurant ("Mexican" in quotes because, though we did indeed serve something close to Mexican cuisine, it was a joint called Nacho Pete's owned by and almost exclusively staffed by gringos) where, like our hero here, I did rather remarkably crappy work and still had a blast with some seriously fun people. It's the kind of job you know you don't want now, but that had little charms (like drinking 50-cent Mexican beers each night when we closed) that make it a whole lot better in retrospect than it probably ever was.

But I digress a little, all in the hopes of setting up just what makes Mottola's movie so charming. When it works, which is very often, it's because what he delivers is exactly what the premise promises, a truly terrible job where you find the kind of people you'll remember for the rest of your life, and it's all (at least until the rather rushed ending) told at a natural pace that (for me at least) lingered in all the right places.

Though the movie opens and just about closes with 'Mats tunes (never a problem in my book), it gets its heart and tone from Lou Reed, and specifically the Velvet Underground song "Pale Blue Eyes." Like that tune, it has a melodic appeal that masks some serious dysfunction that's simmering just below the surface, much of which comes from the aforementioned Ms. Stewart, who is indeed the strongest player here. As an NYU student who also works at the park and is dealing with some serious family issues while at the same time making the kind of mistake (with Ryan Reynolds as the park mechanic) that she seems to already know will take her nowhere good, she just tells you more with a look than she ever did as she spent the entirety of "Twilight" (yes, I did see that) with a vacant stare.

And it's one scene set to "Pale Blue Eyes" that gives the movie a needed sense of urgency, or at least longing, as it's playing in the background when Stewart's Em gives Eisenberg's James a ride home and he can't took his eyes off of her (and who can blame him?) If their bumbling romance (which I won't tell you too much more about) gives the movie it's heart, the supporting amusement park players give the flick a kind of genuine sweetness that we see far too rarely in movies nowadays.

Hader and Wiig (as an aside, if you want to see a very funny supporting performance from her, rent "Ghost Town" now) are as funny as advertised, but as a married couple who run the park, they also just fit together perfectly, and all of their bits meld organically into the movie rather than stand out as forced hilarity. Martin Starr (who among all the Apatow players certainly deserves his own starring role by now, right?) is painfully dead-on as the kind of intellectual misfit who will actually use Gogol to try and pitch woo. And Margerita Levieva, as the park temptress Lisa P., provided the only moment when I laughed so loud that people turned around and stared at me, when you see how exactly she lures people onto riding the Musical Express.

Now, like probably this review, Mottola's movie does go on a bit too long, and it's ending feels more than a bit tacked on. Even so, it's easily the best movie I've seen this year (with the other four that I'd consider very-good-to-great being "Coraline," "Watchmen," "The International" and "Duplicity.") And not surprisingly, I suppose, it's just getting mauled at the box office, taking in a measly $2 million Friday compared to an astonishing $30 million in one day for "Fast & Furious."

But if you can handle a movie that takes it very sweet time getting to a familiar but entertaining place, please go see "Adventureland," and if you've visited there already, please feel free to share your impressions with me. Peace out.


Bob said...

I saw this last night with a bunch of friends as part of my birthday festivities. I absolutely loved it. So funny but the sense of melancholy is just right. It reminded me so much of my time working at a movie theater. The line on "Stand By Me" is something like you never have the kind of friends you have when you're twelve. No. You never have the kind of friends you make when you're working at a crappy customer service job. From what you said about your time at the Mexican restaurant it sounds like you agree. I'll be putting up my own review later today probably. Just a terrific movie.

Bob said...

My review is up! :)

Reel Fanatic said...

I'll certainly check it out tomorrow morning as a means to avoid doing work!

Chalupa said...

Hey RF have you seen Eyeball Eddie? It's a short starring Martin Star. He's a highschool wrestler with a fake eye.

Reel Fanatic said...

You know, I've heard of that before, but I didn't realise he was in it ... I'll definitely have to see if I can track it down now .. thanks for the heads up!