A couple nights ago I wrapped up my evening by watching the movie Adventureland, which is more or less billed as your typical coming of age romantic comedy; a notion drilled home by the fact that its director is Greg Mottola, who also made Superbad. Taking place in 1987, it features the characters of James (Jesse Eisenberg; excellent work) and Em (Kristen Stewart; also pretty good). James (The Virgin), a recent college grad (lit) with designs on going to NYU grad school in the fall, is facing the usual money troubles and is forced to cancel a planned summer vacation in Europe to go to work at a local amusement park: Adventureland. There he meets Em and, in terms of story arc, you can pretty much take it from there.
I remember seeing the trailers and thinking, yeah, this is Superbad 2. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I mean I liked Superbad well enough. But at the same time, the vulgar, infantile teenage sex comedy ground has been well ploughed and, like many I’m sure, I’m weary of it. But this one unexpectedly managed to get under my skin when I wasn’t looking. It’s a flick that’s not in any way remarkable, but after a couple days’ contemplation, I think the fact that it is such a low key, even plodding, affair is precisely why I liked it. So many other films of this type constantly feel like the writer/director looked at any “slow” points in the script and said, “We need to add some crazy ass shizzle and maybe a dick or semen joke here!” Not so here. The characters and story here get room to breath and that’s refreshing.
When you find out early on that the male lead is a virgin you immediately think you’re in for a long ride of cliche sex jokes and escapades, but there’s really very little of that to be found and what’s there doesn’t go on for long nor is it loaded with over the top shock value. Instead there’s just the somewhat awkward and tension-filled, but wholly authentic, beginning of a new relationship set amidst the rather gloomy backdrop of a struggling Pennsylvania amusement park. There are characters of weaker –uh- character, but no real villains. There’s really nobody to hate and most everyone has some worthwhile attribute that makes them interesting in some fashion.
Aside from one sequence of forced melodrama towards the end, the only aspect of the film that really got on my nerves is the depiction of James’ and Ems’ parents. You know you’re getting older when you focus on the douchebag parents in a movie about kids in their late teens/early twenties. Time is a harsh mistress. Nonetheless, why is every dad in these movies an incompetent, broken douche and every mom a bitchy, overbearing pain in the ass? No, our main characters wouldn’t be more interesting/believable if they had the Huxtables or Keatons waiting for them at home, but in a movie in which most other characters get some kind of moment to live outside their archetype, even if for a short while, the parents get no such treatment and that’s despite their being ample opportunity to do so. I find their impotence disappointing, but not surprising.
That criticism aside, I wish more films like Adventureland had some legitimate measure of commercial success, because this sort of low key, authentic storyline and characterization is something I’d like to see more of. Also, someone get Kristen Stewart more roles like this one, instead of wasting her on tripe like Twilight.
Also, also - best use of “Rock Me Amadeus” ever!