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Friday, April 3, 2009

Adventureland (***1/2)


Honest, sweet, funny, and raw, Adventureland is a labor of love from writer-director Greg Mottola. Set in 1987, Adventureland is a rare gem of a film about twentysomethings working a dead end summer job in a depressing amusement park in suburban Pittsburgh. The dialogue is careful and clever; the jokes and insights sound familiar and true to the bright, bored and lazy souls who may recognize aspects of themselves in these characters. The pacing is lackadaisical; it invokes a summer of low-paying monotony and tedium, occasionally interrupted by moments of life-changing excitement, with all the confusion that accompanies with those moments. There are bits of sheer cinematic joy, such as the cast watching fireworks together set to Crowded House's "Don't Dream It's Over" and having a blast riding the bumper cars as The Cure's "Just Like Heaven." I enjoyed the sharp, heartfelt dialogue but also how much was said between the characters without verbalizing, thanks to the fine-tuned performances by the stellar young cast, toplined by Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, supported ably by Ryan Reynolds, SNL's Bill Hader and Kristin Wiig, and Martin Starr from Party Down.  It's wonderful to see Kristen Stewart play a complicated real person and not lusting after a shiny vampire. Eisenberg at first seems like an older Michael Cera impressionist; his character James is a well-read intellectual whose naivete occasionally lends itself to a bit of douchebaggery, but he turns out to be a pretty decent guy overall. I enjoyed the genuine interaction, friendships and relationships between the characters more than the comedy, like the running gag of Eisenberg covering up his boners. The 1987 setting and the killer soundtrack, which was woven organically into the movie, were among the best things about Adventureland.