Saturday, April 4, 2009
I loved it. I loved Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, and the wonderful supporting cast, including Ryan Reynolds in a plum role and Freaks and Geeks alum Martin Starr, who is never less than fantastic. More important, Adventureland offers an extremely well-blended mix of wacky comedy, subtle character- and situation-based comedy, and surprisingly affecting, even occasionally wrenching drama (mostly of the romantic variety).
I've never seen a movie that so accurately captured the bittersweetness of the midway lights; since Adventureland takes place primarily at the titular Pittsburgh-area theme park (it's called Kennywood in real life), we get some nice dusk and night shots of the illuminated rides, a sight I've always found lovely and poetic, though I'm unable to say why. Greg Mottola's film expresses what I've so often failed to about the lights by folding those gorgeous shots into a story that's funny, happy, and sad in roughly equal proportions. The whole thing just hangs together beautifully, and I found the love story at its center truly moving.
The trailer sells the movie as a farce in the Superbad vein, which is to be expected: Mottola was that film's director, too. But whereas Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg cowrote the previous film, Mottola gets the sole writing credit for Adventureland. Eisenberg's performance evokes certain aspects of Michael Cera's in Superbad, but Eisenberg has a better touch with tart dramedy (as he demonstrated in 2005's The Squid and the Whale), and he and Stewart both get to show off their considerable acting chops, particularly in scenes that find them heartbroken with each other, disappointed but still hopeful beneath the pain.
The spirit of Superbad's few poignant moments finds fuller expression in Adventureland's low-level melancholy, which grounds even the most ridiculous comic scenes in something real. The contrast between the indignity of jobs like the ones at the park and the erudition of the workers -- Starr plays a Russian literature major who orients Eisenberg's character, an Oberlin graduate who majored in comparative literature -- makes for satisfying comedy, but it should also ring true for those who have found themselves in jobs that they'd previously considered beneath them.
I don't want to spoil Adventureland's graceful conclusion, but I will say that when a movie like this manages such a believable, uncontrived happy ending, it's done something few films of its type are capable of. This movie made me very, very happy at a moment in time when I really needed it, and for that I'm enormously grateful.
(One last thing: For those still in mourning for Freaks and Geeks, Adventureland delivers a solid dose of consolation, thanks in no small part to series alums Mottola and Starr. This is precisely the kind of movie I hoped they'd make.)