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Overall Rating

Awesome: 20.41%
Worth A Look: 24.49%
Just Average38.78%
Pretty Crappy: 14.29%
Sucks: 2.04%

6 reviews, 13 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"Rollercoaster Of Love"
5 stars

“Adventureland” is one of the best movies to emerge in 2009 (which may sound like faint praise when you consider the competition) but you wouldn’t know that from the trailers and commercials that Miramax has put together in an effort to sell it to audiences. Those previews have stressed the presence of wacky sight gags, hints of sex, drugs and weirdness, some goofiness from a couple of “Saturday Night Live” performers and the fact that it was directed by the same guy who made “Superbad” in the hopes of making it seem like another wild and rambunctious teen comedy. You can’t really blame the studio for putting these elements front and center because these things do actually appear in the film and they are easily exploitable ingredients. However, they don’t even begin to paint a full picture of the kind of film that “Adventureland” really is--a brilliant portrait of post-adolescent angst that looks and feels like the great film that John Hughes never quite got around to making during his heyday a couple of decades ago.

Set during the summer of 1987, the film opens as self-serious recent college graduate James (Jesse Eisenberg) is abruptly informed by his parents that his father’s recent demotion at work means that his graduation present, a summer-long jaunt through Europe, is off and his hopes to attend grad school at the Columbia Journalism school in the fall are in serious jeopardy unless he finds a summer job to help pay for it. Unfortunately, the only job he can find is at Adventureland, a low-rent amusement park run by the weird but strangely dedicated Bobby and Paulette (“SNL” vets Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig). As it turns out, that old saying about real life being just like high school with more money even applies to someplace like Adventureland as James discovers that there is a hierarchy amongst the park workers that his high SAT scores will allow him to penetrate: the cool kids get the plum assignments of ride operators while the gawky and goofy types are relegated to running the games in the midway, a position that mostly entails cleaning up after little kids who have unwisely indulged in the corn dogs and dealing with outraged patrons who have just discovered that most of the games are rigged so that they can’t possibly win any of the good prizes. As co-worker and kindred spirit Joel (Martin Starr), a pipe-smoking intellectual reduced to supervising Whack-a-Mole games, ruefully puts it, “We are doing the work of pathetic, lazy morons.”

The job is a bummer, of course, but for the virginal James, there is one major compensating factor in the form of Em (Kristen Stewart), a beautiful fellow game operator who works at Adventureland not for financial reasons but to spend as much time away from her clueless father and hateful stepmother as possible. James is instantly smitten--to him, Em is less a girl than a soul mate who is on the same wavelength with on everything from music to life--and finds himself confessing his infatuation to Connell (Ryan Reynolds), the slightly older guy who is on the top rung of the Adventureland social ladder thanks to his maintenance man position that gives him the run of the park and the legend that he once got to jam on stage with no less a figure of holy cool than Lou Reed himself. What James fails to understand is that the married Connell is also the park Lothario and his latest conquest is none other than Em. Despite this, Em finds herself gradually becoming charmed by James’ utter earnestness (he confesses to her that he is still a virgin practically the first time that they meet) and the two begin a tentative flirtation that does wonders for his self-confidence. Too much, in fact, because before too long, James finds himself lured by the siren song (if one can actually call “Rock Me Amadeus” a siren song) of the infamous Lisa P (Margarita Levieva), a ride-operating hottie who inflames the libidos of virtually every male at the park without actually apparently doing anything. Inevitably, James and Em find out about Connell and Lisa P in the worst ways possible, leading to much heartbreak and perhaps a better understanding of each other and the ways in which the world really works.

As you can tell from the above description, “Adventureland” certainly contains all the ingredients from a raucous teen romp and indeed, there are any number of big laughs on display involving sex, drugs and park-related shenanigans. However, it quickly becomes apparent that writer-director Greg Mottola is interested in presenting us with more than just the kind of broad comic moments that play well in the ads. For starters, many of the funniest moments in the film come from the more off-hand lines of dialogue (such as the description of one game as “a criminal abuse of the laws of perspective”) or in the wonderfully awkward moments that you can immediately tell have their roots in real-life incidents. (At one point, Joel presents a co-worker that he is smitten by with a copy of Gogol’s “The Overcoat” and when she spurns both the gift and him, he tries to save face by insisting to her that it is still worth reading anyway.) More importantly, Mottola is more interested, as he was to a similar degree with “Superbad,” in blowing past the standard clichés of this particular cinematic subgenre to get to the truths that have fueled them for so long--in this case, the pains and anxieties and rare moments of bliss that mark the lives of all young people as they fumble their way into adulthood. Time after time, Mottola sets up familiar situations--James and Em’s problems with their respective parents, the bumps in their own burgeoning relationship and James’ eventual confrontation with Connell after everything is out in the open--and instead of letting them play out in the expected ways, he find ways of resolving them that are more realistic and therefore more effecting (The silent moment between James and his dad when the reason for his demotion becomes evident is especially affecting. Furthermore, while the soundtrack for the film is jam-packed with tunes from the era, Mottola has clearly picked the songs less for their camp value and more for the myriad ways that they speak to, and occasionally for (as in a wonderful, wordless scene in which the normally talkative James lets the sounds of Husker Du do the talking during a ride home from Em on his first day at work) the characters. (That said, while I dearly love Lou Reed’s “Pale Blue Eyes,” which pretty much serves as the film’s theme song, I have to admit that the idea that it could be found on the jukebox in a working-class Pittsburgh bar does stretch the imagination just a bit.)

“Adventureland” is also graced with wonderful performances across the board. Yes, Jesse Eisenberg has done variations on the hyper-intelligent goof who isn’t quite as smart as he thinks he is in films like “Roger Dodger” and “The Squid and the Whale,” but he has never done it as well or as likeably he does here. As Em, Kristen Stewart gets to show off all of the acting chops that she wasn’t allowed to demonstrate in that “Twilight” nonsense and, along with Eisenberg, forms one of the most appealing young couples to appear in a film in a while. The supporting cast of players is just as strong as the leads. Although he has been more than a little grating in some of his past appearances, Ryan Reynolds is both funny and a little touching here as the guy who seems to have it all--at least by the skewed perspective of Adventureland as a whole--but who is still forced to use the basement of his mom’s house for his clandestine assignations with Em. As intellectual sad sack Joe, Martin Starr provides a hilariously dour counterpoint to James and the subplot in which the girl he briefly has a fling with cruelly rejects him is affecting as well. Margarita Vieva makes a brief but vivid impression as Lisa P., the kind of girl that who effortlessly sucks you into her grasp even though you know in your heart that such a thing is a bad idea. And while Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig may not appear in the film as often as the trailers might suggest, they do contribute some enormously funny moments as the kind of oddball couple that you would expect to find running a place like Adventureland.

Although it will no doubt have greater resonance for those viewers who themselves came of age in the late 1980’s, “Adventureland” is the kind of film that will ring equally true with teenagers of all ages and era because it deals with universal truths that stay the same even as the fads and styles change. It is sweet, funny, touching, knowing and intelligent throughout in ways that aren’t often seen in contemporary American comedies these days and it even manages to clear the hurdle that most films of its type tend to stumble over--the ending. It is easy enough to apply a happy ending to a film like this but it is much harder to come up with the correct one--one that organically fits together with everything that has come before it--and that is what happens here, a moment that is so perfectly realized and executed that you will leave the theater feeling the kind of elation normally seen in a little kid spending a day at the amusement park. Just not Adventureland, of course.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=18104&reviewer=389
originally posted: 04/03/09 00:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2009 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Edinburgh International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Edinburgh International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/27/11 Ken Totally unexpected. Well done and enjoyable. 4 stars
1/18/11 mr.mike Ending seems tacked-on , otherwise "no bad". 4 stars
11/04/09 Liberty Man Well done. Better than I expected. 4 stars
10/03/09 MSR Absolutely awful and totally transparent. 1 stars
9/03/09 matt great laughs, great story, great soundtrack. very good movie 5 stars
8/28/09 Dan Nice story with relatable characters... better than the zany movie I was expecting 4 stars
8/28/09 Jeff Wilder Not as funny as Superbad maybe. But smarter and more ambitious. 5 stars
5/28/09 Samantha Pruitt kind of funny, nice and sweet at the end. 4 stars
5/13/09 Colin M A much better movie than its trailer let on. Has relatable characters and great soundtrack. 5 stars
5/10/09 Steve Michaud A sharp, insightful, charming film; one of 2009's very best 5 stars
4/14/09 Sully For a 80's-first-job-teen-love movie stay with Caddyshack.Kristen S. & hair flips UGH!!! 3 stars
4/12/09 Drew It is a very intersting movie. 4 stars
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  03-Apr-2009 (R)
  DVD: 25-Aug-2009


  DVD: 25-Aug-2009

Directed by
  Greg Mottola

Written by
  Greg Mottola

  Jesse Eisenberg
  Ryan Reynolds
  Kristen Stewart
  Martin Starr
  Paige Howard

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