Saturday, April 11, 2009
Greg Mottola surely had fun directing Superbad. Now, in Adventureland, he has written and directed a film with the same coming-of-age authentic awkwardness, but where the kids are just a few years older, their lives just a bit more complicated and interesting. The film takes place in a cheesy amusement park where college kids from a town outside of Pittsburgh work a crappy summer job, while dreaming of moving to New York City for grad school. They're at the age where academic intellectual pursuits seem really cool, but also at the age where it's becoming clear that making their way in the real world might require some work. "I'm not even qualified for manual labor," says James, a comparative lit major, after being rejected for a trucking job. Jesse Eisenberg plays James with the perfect balance of earnest innocence and sardonic remarks for our 21-year-old virgin coming-of-age hero. Comparisons to Michael Cera are inevitable, but Eisenberg's James has a bit more spark and drive going for him than Michael Cera's meek Hugh Grant-esque deer-in-the-headlights aphasia, and it's a delight to watch James blossom. The film's setting in the 1980s gave it a slight (but not cloying) Wonder Years nostalgic patina, and James is much like Fred Savage's character probably turned out ten years after the Wonder Years. Eisenberg is well-matched by Kristen Stewart, who plays Em, the girl of that memorable summer, a bit more worldly than him, confident and outgoing, but not quite as ready to handle it all as she projects. A cast of quirky characters, some stock (the bubble-gum-blowing sexy Catholic New Jersey-type girl) and some more interesting, add color to the retelling of the archetypal story. The film is tender, funny, and enjoyable to the expected but satisfying end. But it's not about the end, which we know from the start, but the summer of how he got there.