This is not the movie that the trailer promised. And, that’s a good thing.
“Adventureland,” is writer-director Greg Mottola’s autobiographical follow-up to “Superbad.” And, unlike most sophomore slumps, this is as good as his first movie.
In the summer of 1987, James Brennan has just graduated from college and is looking forward to touring Europe, and then moving to New York to attend graduate school at Columbia. However, things have changed financially and, on top of being unable to visit Europe, James finds himself forced to find a job for the summer to help pay for school in New York. He ends up at the local theme park, “Adventureland.”
At the park, James meets Joel, a sarcastic ride operator, the sexy Lisa P., Frigo, a former friend, park repairman Mike and fellow game runner Emily, better known as “Em.” On his first day, after being told never to give away the ‘big ass panda’ as a prize, James is held-up at knife-point for a panda. Almost immediately, James is smitten with Em. They end up back at her place one night after work for a party, and, while everyone is inside, they go swimming. The sparks are flying, but James is clumsy and Em is coy. What James doesn’t know is that Em is carrying on a long-standing affair with Mike. Mike is quiet at work, but the rumor spreads that he once jammed with Lou Reed.
Almost all of “Adventureland,” plays in a bit of a haze. Taking place after the park closes, the feel of nostalgia hangs over everything. This is compounded by a great soundtrack, featuring The Replacements, Crowded House, The Velvet Underground and INXS. The score is provided by indie-rock legends Yo La Tengo.
The ad campaign for “Adventureland,” made it look like it was another Judd Apatow school comedy. Really funny and crass, but with a warm, gooey center. However, this is not the movie Mottola made. (Or probably set out to make.) “Adventureland,” is not a laugh-out-loud movie, but one that you smile with, and one that grows on you with each scene as you get to know the characters better and better. Very few of the scenarios are overtly funny, (although, every time Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig’s park owner and his wife show up on screen, you almost instinctively chuckle. Always standing next to a trash can with a clown head on it, he’s constantly yelling at someone off camera, “hey, put the trash in the clown mouth.”)
The cast, led by Jesse Eisenberg’s James is across-the-boards excellent. Em is played by Kristin Stewart and Martin Starr plays Joel. Ryan Reynolds, (who usually bugs the hell out of me,) is also good as Mike. There’s nothing showy about the performances. They all seem very, very natural.
Simply put, “Adventureland,” is a coming-of-age romance, and there’s nothing that we haven’t seen before, but the characters and the setting is so charming, that it doesn’t matter. Mottola clearly is fond of his characters and his setting. I’m assuming that this story hits close to home for him. It is this nostalgia that makes the movie as good as it is. Even though “Superbad,” was a fun and touching story, it is “Adventureland,” that is the better movie overall. You probably missed this one in theaters because of the completely off-the-mark advertising campaign. Don’t let this one slip by on DVD. -Sam