Monday, April 13, 2009

"Adventureland" - REVIEW

Greg Motolla's breakthrough (2007's Superbad), didn't leave a whole lot of room for promise; he seemed destined to be a one-hit wonder. It's because of this negative expectation that his follow-up is not only good, but much better than "Superbad". The year is 1987, and James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) has just finished college, and is ready to go on a trip through Europe with his friend, before going off to Columbia for graduate school. Problem is, his father has just been given a new, significantly lower-paying job than before, forcing James to spend his summer at a summer job, earning money towards graduate school. He quickly, though unenthusiastically, signs on at local amusement park Adventureland, run by Bobby and Paulette (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig). Stuck managing a boring "horse-racing" game, he soon befriends a small ring of characters, namely nerdy Joel (Martin Starr), repairman Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds), and mysterious, low key Emily (Kristen Stewart). Unlike many movies that would tediously prolong the no-duh relationship between Emily and James, it actually happens right away, leaving the question: how much longer can this movie last now that the central story is already in play? Surprisingly, "Adventureland" pulls it off, with a low-key, almost non-existant plot structure that actually works in the movie's mellow, summer vibe. A major improvement above "Superbad" is also that "Adventureland", though full of R-rated language, doesn't force it out; Superbad seemed determined to throw out as many F-bombs as possible whenever a situation exhausted its comic potential. "Adventureland"'s characters are treated with more respect, are less cartoony, and the film as a whole is much more subtle, and surprisingly poignant in a weird sort of way, which may come as a shock to fans of movies like "Superbad" and "Knocked Up". Eisenberg is terrific as James, who gradually comes out of his awkward shell, as is Martin Starr as Joel. Kristen Stewart, while fine, gets little more to do than smile half-heartedly and look sullen, and only gets to shine in three scenes where she gets emotional, one of which doesn't make any sense, where she calls a religious girl with uptight parents homophobic, anti-Semetic, and apartheid-supporting....out of NOWHERE. Hader and Wiig are good with what they have, but terribly underused, and Reynolds, though given more screentime, looks too "Hollywood-leading-man" to play a technician, but does an adequate job with what he has. In spite of this more obvious flaws, "Adventureland" is still a much better movie than "Superbad", because it feels more honest, doesn't try too hard to be funny, and ends up being surprisingly moving because of its honesty and more subtle characters and relationships.

Grade: B+

Number of 2009 films: 9