Everyone has a favorite summer. It’s that summer when you worked some crappy job to pay the bills, spent your spare time reading excellent books, blew your paycheck on movies and trips to the beach and lay on your bed in your underwear on the scorching days in July when you didn’t have any air conditioning. It’s that summer when you fell in love, or severely in like, and you had time to dream, or nap or write really terrible poetry. It’s that summer you spent riding around in a friend’s car at one a.m., with the windows open and the radio playing that one great song you listened to over and over again and never get sick of. You’re tired, or drunk, or just in a really good mood, and even though it’s a complete clichƒ© to think so, you find that you feel freer than you ever have before.
“Adventureland,” the new film by Greg Mottola, is not a story so much as a creative compilation of these moments in time. Ostensibly set in 1987, it could be any summer, in anyone’s hometown, with anyone’s friends. This particular moment takes place in Pittsburgh, in a broken-down amusement park called Adventureland, where the games are rigged, the corn dogs have been out in the sun awhile and everyone has a story about some guy who got decapitated on one of the rides.
Written and Directed by: Greg Mottola
Starring: Jessie Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds
Seen At: Regal Fenway 13
Adventureland is a purgatory of sorts for the main character, James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg). He’s a newly minted college graduate who had originally planned on spending his summer in Europe with his rich friend but instead was forced to return to his childhood home after his parents ran into financial troubles. A degree holder in classical literature, he is qualified for nothing, and so goes to work at Adventureland. There he runs the said rigged games, parties with his co-workers and falls in love. Eisenberg, with his mop of curly hair and body of sharp angles at first seems a bit of a caricature (he’s so awkward in the first quarter of the film, he’s practically twitching). But he grew on me after a while, and by the end of the film mellows his performance to something more rounded and dimensional.
I’ve never been a big fan of Kristen Stewart who plays James’ wounded summer love, Em. I find her misunderstood, girl-next-door schtick a little bland (and more than a little annoying). But there are moments in this film that Stewart plays with a wonderful slow burn, demonstrating she may not be the one-note actress I assumed she was. There’s an especially terrific scene with her father and society-seeking step-mother; the dialogue is typical for a family fight scene, but Stewart delivers a quiet, understated little performance that made me forgive her tonelessness exhibited in other films.
But the most surprising star is Ryan Reynolds as the park’s mechanic and cool dude, Connell. I kept waiting for Reynolds to pop out of his shell, start making dirty/smart wise cracks and have a good joke involving masturbation. But Reynolds played Connell instead like someone slightly broken-down — he’s much like the rides he fixes. Yes, he’s the coolest guy at the park (he brings a guitar to work and claims to have played with Lou Reed). But below his shallow small-town mystique, Connell knows that he’s settled. Most of his co-workers are simply there for the summer before heading off to their elite universities to major in Russian literature; Connell will be there, or somewhere very much like it, forever.
It’s a touching portrayal, but it must be mentioned that “Adventureland” is also terribly funny — Mottola appears to have learned from his previous experience with “Superbad.” He’s kept all of the comedic tropes that worked so well in that endeavor (the sharp, witty pot humor, the understated one-liners) and marginalized the gross-out and toilet humor to a more manageable state.
The always-wonderful Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig play the husband-and-wife team who run the park, and one of my wishes is that there were more of them. They are the kind, but slightly clueless, bosses everyone has had before.
My favorite summer was three years ago; I remember every day of it, in sounds, and smells and orange-tinted light. “Adventureland” may not have much of a plot, but it perfectly captures the essence of that one great summer- a lazy, sensory stop-gap to the next big adventure in your life.
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