Sundance Part Seven: Adventureland
Posted on Wednesday January 21, 2009, 17:51 by Damon Wise
I almost missed Adventureland because the trailer seemed a bit twee but I'm so glad I saw it. This is the perfect summer movie: very funny, very sweet, with a range of flawed but adorable characters that you really enjoy spending time with. Set in 1987, it stars Jesse Eisenberg as James Brennan, a college kid who's planning on going to Europe for the summer before moving to New York with his best friend. His father's demotion, however, means that his parents can no longer afford to pay for it, and the only work available to a bright Pittsburgh kid who's only ever mowed lawns before (and has a letter of recommendation to prove it) is a job at the shabby amusement park Adventureland.
Working in the games division, James falls for the pretty Emily (Kristen Stewart), not realising that she's having an affair with handsome park technician Connell (Ryan Reynolds). When Emily seemingly cools on him, James turns his attention to dim but nice funfair babe Lisa P, who initially likes James for his supply of pot but comes to appreciate his gentle nature. Meanwhile, Emily is having second thoughts about James, and thinks she should give up Connnell and give him a chance. And as far as plot goes, that's really it. Just as his last film, Superbad, was about two guys trying to buy booze, Greg Mottola's latest is about a young man's first real experience of love.
Its myriad pleasures lie in the mundane details of its setting. Martin Starr is especially good as the pipe-smoking Joel, who talks James through the park's tricks and cons: a basketball game is unwinnable thanks to “a criminal abuse of the laws of perspective”, hoops are too small to go over the necks of their targets, and the giving away of the park's biggest prize – “a giant-ass panda” – is punishable by the sack. Very funny too are the owners of the park, Saturday Night Live stars Kristen Wiig and god that is Bill Hader. Their scenes together are an utter joy but, curiously, never upstage the bittersweet romance around them. Likewise, Reynolds is terrific as the shabby wideboy Connell, an aspiring rocker who claims that he once jammed with Lou Reed and is moving to LA to form a band but, in all likelihood, will stay an unhappily married carny.
I don't know why but it reminded me of American Graffiti. The canvas is not as broad but it has that same winsome air of nostalgia and a similar trajectory, in that it's about a boy trying to leave town. The 80s soundtrack is sparingly used, and, apart from the thudding use of Falco's Rock Me Amadeus and an absence of cellphones, it becomes easy to forget that it's a period piece. In short, I would like to apologise to Mottola for giving his film just a single “ooh”. It fully deserves three.