' Cinema Romantico: Adventureland

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Adventureland

Ever since I first heard it, twelve, maybe thirteen years ago, I had fantasized about writing and/or making a movie that included the poetry of my favorite Velvet Underground song, "Pale Blue Eyes". I imagine we all have a few tunes like that, wherein it comes on and we kick back and close our eyes and daydream about some non-existent cinematic moment. Well, Greg Mottola (writer and director of "Adventureland") made my daydream come true and I think it was at that exact moment I realized that, yes, I was enjoying his movie. Well played, Mr. Mottola, well played indeed.

The year is 1987, a time when jeans were stonewashed and Whitesnake roamed the earth. James (Jesse Eisenberg) has graduated from college. He will travel to Europe in the summer and then enroll in graduate school at Columbia in the fall. But then fate, as it must, kicks him and his family in the head. His dad gets demoted which means they cannot finance the european vacation which means James has to move back home to Pittsburgh which means that because he essentially has no employment history to speak of ("I've never driven an asphalt truck, per se") the only job he can get is in the "games" division at a raggedy amusement park called Adventureland where its owners (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig) explain that when it comes to the games "no one wins a giant ass panda" which means his first day James will watch as someone wins a giant ass panda due to some bending of the rules which means James refuses to hand it over which means the customer threatens him with a knife which means Em (Kristen Stewart) swoops in and hands over the giant ass panda which means we've got our Meet Cute.

James and Em, who brings to mind the eloquent Prince phrase "never seen a pretty girl look so tough", begin a tentative romance but she is also involved with Connell (Ryan Reynolds), the park maintenance man who is older, married, and prone to talking about how he'll be moving to L.A. once he gets his band together. (I wish this movie had actually been made in the 80's so the young Val Kilmer could have played this part. Not that Reynolds is bad but, man, I would be surprised if Mottola's script did not describe this character as looking "suspiciously like a young Val Kilmer".)

There are many others moving to and fro about Adventureland. There is Joel (Martin Starr), who smokes a pipe and shows James the ropes and there is the guy who always greets James by punching him in, shall we say, The Groinal Region (this is about as lowbrow as the movie gets but this character has to be there because there is always at least one jackass like him around) and there is the radiant Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva), who brings to mind the eloquent Jon Bon Jovi phrase "a school boy's dream", with whom everyone at the park is in love. And her name, by the way, is note perfect characterization. Not Lisa, mind you, but Lisa P, which is exactly how it works with girls of this sort. It's like my friend Rory and Incredibly Hot Kate From German Class. Specifics, man.

The particulars of the plot are not all that earth shattering but then Mottola never makes those particulars the point. The film has a lazy rhythm and not lazy as in Evincing No Effort but as in the feeling of the lazy summer days during which the film is set. Much of the dialogue feels natural and is funny in a laid back way (I greatly enjoyed James explaining how a Shakespeare sonnet assisted in a breakup). The primary characters are shaded fairly well and, thankfully, the film does not get too mired in obsessively slamming the fact that it's 1987! 1987! 1987! in our face.

It's why the end left me a tad disappointed. I cannot help but feel there was a bit too much that "happened" when the film seemed to be crying out for more of an easy-going fade out but, even so, I don't think the arc of James' summer at Adventureland gets ruined. He's grown up when it's all said and done but you also know there is a whole lot left to be learned.

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