Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Adventureland: Cheezy Without Tons of Cheap Laughs

A cheap laugh was the only expectation set prior to Friday night’s opening of Adventureland, the latest film written and directed by Greg Mottola (Superbad, Arrested Development).

Based on the 85 second long trailer released in the months leading up to the official debut of the film, the average deduction was that the movie will be a feel-good story that has a twist in the plot and end up working out for everyone in the end. While some of these aspects remain true, the road Adventureland takes to get there is full of blind turns and sudden stops.

James Brennan, played by Jesse Eisenberg (The Squid and the Whale) is a scrawny Pittsburgh native, fresh out of a private college with a literature degree, full of Ivy League aspirations and plans of a European trip to expand his knowledge and probably “find himself”. Oh, and lose his virginity, that’s key.

Not long into the movie, the crowd learns that Brennan’s father, played by Jack Gilpin, has been demoted at work (possibly due to his love of scotch) and the family is unable to foot the bill for his trip across the Atlantic. This leaves James in a tough spot.

With no graduation trip and Columbia grad school only a few months off, James is forced to find a job that can be performed by someone with absolutely no real-life work experience and he finds it at Adventureland, Pittsburgh’s local amusement park that looks and feels a lot like the 80s version of Lake Compounce or Riverside.

This local dump houses rickety roller coasters, shoddy rides and corn dogs. For one reason or another, the corn dog reappears throughout the movie in different scenes and is referenced over a dozen times. Maybe they were a bigger staple in the American diet in 1987?

Not long after beginning his stint at Adventureland, Brennan discovers he’s not the only well-read well-educated carnie working for next to nothing in the games sections.

James first meets Joel, a long, greasy haired, pipe smoking intellectual that finds himself stuck at Adventureland for no apparent reason, or one that’s not given throughout the film. Joel shows Brennan the ropes of getting by at the park and sums up the entire experience in a single line, “We are doing the work of pathetic lazy morons.”

Shortly after getting comfortable at his role in the horse race booth, James finds his love interest, the ultra-damaged, but interestingly attractive Em, played by Kristen Stewart fresh off her role on Twilight. Em is an NYU student that fully understands Brennan’s nerdy tendencies, over-thought words and awkward flirting.

If the movie was actually filmed in 1987, this would be John Cusack’s perfect girl. Book smarts and a killer record collection that directly correlates with the 80s indie heavy soundtrack makes Em standout as every nerd’s dream girl.

Problem with Em is her attraction to park maintenance man and general sleezeball Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds). Reynolds finds his new prey every season at the park and impresses his much younger and super naive girls with fake stories of playing with Lou Reed.

In reality, Connell is married to an aging disco owner and takes girls to his mother’s basement to have sex. The character is scummy to say the least, but for one reason or another, he continues to help Brennan at the park like an older brother.

Throughout the movie, Brennan’s past shines through with the character of Tommy Frigo, the friend everyone had in high school that never grew up and you ignored once you started college.
Frigo is pure gross out humor and ball punching. Even from his introduction in the movie, his sole role is to punch James Brennan in the balls. Cheap laugh success, but it gets played out after the third or forth time. He is the reason no one ever wants to go back to their hometown after college, cause he will always be there.

While most people expected Adventureland to be Superbad 2, Mottola created a coming of age flick that might be looked at in the future as this generation’s High Fidelity. A seemingly low budget film that contains a great story with tons of indie credibility is exactly what the public needs to combat the terribleness that is Fast and the Furious.

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