A Nostalgic Story Is Found in Adventureland
- Friday, April 03, 2009
DVD Release Date: August 25, 2009
Theatrical Release Date: April 3, 2009
Rating: R (for strong language, drug use, sexual references and sexual situations.)
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Run Time: 107 min.
Director: Greg Mottola
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Martin Starr, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Margarita Levieva, Matt Bush, Ryan Reynolds
I have to confess: Adventureland captured me as strongly as any film I've seen in a long time. Disparage its R-rated content if you must (and I wouldn't disparage anyone in return who would), but there is an authentic core to this nostalgic story that can't be denied.
We were all young once, and often our immaturity, passions and inexperience got the best of our potential, but it was real, deeply formative, and there was a beauty to it all—even in the mistakes. It was a time that, for good and bad, made us who we are. Adventureland is about that time, and succeeds at remembering (and understanding) it as well as any coming-of-age story ever has.
Set in 1987, Adventureland recreates its time perfectly while also basking in an aura of timelessness. If you're a child of the '80s, this movie transports your heart back to that era. If you're younger or older than that generation, it still resonates. That's because this isn't a movie about what it was like to grow up in the '80s but, simply, what it's like to grow up—with all its fun, confusion, expectancy, and loss.
Though conventional in both set-up and arc, this story and the emotions it explores are profoundly universal, and its themes circle specifically around the repercussions of absent fathers (whether physically or emotionally). Recent college-grad James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) has his plans of a summer excursion to Europe and post-graduate Columbia journalism school studies completely upended when his well-to-do dad is demoted and money dries up. Entitled no more, Jesse has to find a summer job. The best he can get? Being a carny.
Called "Adventureland," Jesse's place of employment is the classic local summer fairground so common to many suburban communities, where amidst all the blinking lights and unhealthy food are cheap rides and lame games, with even cheaper and lamer prizes. Given his educated pedigree and erudite tastes (he reads poetry for pleasure), Jesse is initially a fish out of water in this lower-class environment, but that quickly equalizes as he meets old friends, makes new ones, and falls hard for a sweet-yet-hardened girl named Em (Twilight's Kristen Stewart). It's the perfect milieu from which the quintessential "One Summer That Changed Everything" emerges.
Writer/director Greg Mottola (Superbad, TV's Arrested Development) makes this so much more than a light comedic time capsule. Though surrounded by many teen-genre staples, the central characters are real, their behavior complex, and consequences carry weight. Sure, Mottola does flirt with some wish fulfillment for Jesse (his surrogate nerdy lead), but he never crosses over into incredulity. Furthermore, he keeps everything grounded in the honest dynamics of young adults. At that age, when bad things happen and people do you wrong, you're more prone to make the wrong decision than the right one, and you only make matters worse. That's what happens here. Lessons are hard-earned and regrets are made.
Then there's the deeper thematic undercurrent of failed male role models and how young men and women are damaged from the absence of a strong male figure. We see this not only in the milquetoast, hen-pecked fathers, but perhaps best exemplified in the park's mechanic (and resident stud) played by Ryan Reynolds. He's that slightly older man every teenage guy wants to be: handsome, cool, and knows everything about women. His character begins as the idealized archetype, but then the film slowly deconstructs that archetype—even exposing it—ultimately revealing that this is the last person to be admired or emulated (but credit Reynolds for imbuing this flawed man with humanity).
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