From the director of the legendary ‘Superbad’ comes another odd little comedy-of-sorts, albeit a much more obscure and delicate film. Gregg Mottola takes us back to the 1980s, 1987 to be precise and economic crisis is in the air. The materialistic, patriarchal society of America is collapsing and fathers are losing their jobs, their money and their power. So what are the youth of this period meant to do now? ‘Adventureland’ is more than just a comedy, it delves beneath the surface of everyday life and reveals kids dealing with familial rifts, making bad decisions and their attempts to escape all these problems in the fun and lights of the theme park. But as our protagonist James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) discovers, growing up isn’t always that fun.
This is a true ‘coming of age’ rom-com, I really am struggling to think of any film which fits that description more accurately than ‘Adventureland’. When James graduates from college, he has big plans to tour Europe for the summer and then pursue his journalistic ambitions at grad school. Unfortunately for James, his family are no longer able to fund these endeavours, and so begins his crazy summer at his local theme park – Adventureland. Whilst there, he makes friends, meets a girl (Em Lewin), falls in love and loses it all. There is a heavy focus throughout on the forced, new-found independence of the teens, who are easily led and morally vulnerable and as a result are prone to making plenty of mistakes to add to the drama.
Jesse Eisenberg stars as James and is superb as the naive and fragile geek who is opening up to the ways of the world. The journey we witness here is absorbing and genuine and Eisenberg delivers a performance of simple brilliance. Opposite him, Kristen Stewart is equally fantastic as the closed, stand-offish, troubled teen Em. Personally I’ve never been a fan of Stewart, but this film has certainly improved my opinion of her as an actress. Ryan Reynolds is eerily effective as the smarmy, manipulative maintenance guy who is far too involved in the lives of the young employees at Adventureland. At the head of it all, Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig (the funniest woman in the world) are hilarious as the oddball owners of the theme park, but you would expect nothing less.
I have been effusive in my praise of this film thus far, I really believe it to be an understated, cool, classic. But it doesn’t end there. My personal highlight was the delightfully eclectic soundtrack which accompanies this film, enough to elevate ‘Adventureland’ to instant cult status. The soundtrack to a film can be so important, and here we have a soundtrack which captures perfectly the playful youth of the 80s. From Bowie to Big Star, The Cure to The Crowded House, I could go on but by now I’m sure you are sufficiently tantalised. Add to this, the classic 80s outfits, the iconic staff uniform and the garish party wear and you have costume design done right. The contrasting dullness of everyday life, against the lights, sound and colour of the disco and amusement park, encapsulates the whole theme of escapism acutely and is also a great excuse to jam a total of 41 tracks into the film.
‘Adventureland’ is truly a cult classic, to stand alongside the likes of ‘Superbad’ and ‘Napoleon Dynamite’. For arguments sake I will call it a comedy, but I can’t recall laughing out loud properly whilst watching. This however, should not be misconstrued as criticism. ‘Adventureland’ produces an awkward, intense kind of humour, which made me laugh to myself, but only for a moment so as not to distract myself from the surprisingly captivating story that lies beneath.
DIRECTOR: GREGG MOTTOLA
STARRING: JESSE EISENBERG, KRISTEN STEWART, RYAN REYNOLDS, BILL HADER, KRISTEN WIIG