Sunday, April 19, 2009

Adventureland, Not Another Superbad

- Dav Timm

Once when I was in high school, I remember seeing a kid wearing a pro-abstinence t-shirt that read, “VIRGINITY ROCKS!” At the time I didn’t think much of it, but later I realized how absurd the shirt was. Since when does virginity rock? I don’t think virginity is something most people enjoy – I, for one am looking forward to the best part about the V-card: losing it.
This is one reason I liked Adventureland, a charming coming-of-age comedy that follows the summer after college in 1987 for James Brennan (played by Jesse Eisenberg). When his girlfriend dumps him because he’s a virgin, he realizes he needs to get him some. He’s anticipating a trip to Europe before he goes to grad school at Columbia, but then his dad gets demoted and both plans fall through. He’s forced to get a summer job, which he lands at a dilapidated amusement park.

At Adventureland we’re introduced to a plethora of quirky characters who drive the plot, such as nerdy Joel (Martin Starr aka Bill from Freaks & Geeks), Connell (Ryan Reynolds) who claims to have jammed with Lou Reed once, and cute and lovable Em (Kristen Stewart), who quickly becomes the object of James’ attention. By far the funniest and weirdest duo in the film is the married couple that runs Adventureland, Bobby (Bill Hader) and Paulette (Kristen Wiig). The characters provide some of the movie’s greatest appeal. Plus, there’s plenty of slapstick and puking-related humor to make Adventureland a thoroughly comical film.

The movie is a sort of autobiography for writer-director Greg Mottola (Superbad) who spent a summer in similar fashion to Adventureland’s main character. So he knew just how to make Adventureland nostalgic. At the same time it’s accompanied by a classic 80s soundtrack with such artists as Bowie, the Cure, and the Replacements, plus an original score written by Yo La Tengo. Like Superbad, the movie’s tone is set by the soundtrack, but Adventureland tends toward melancholy rather than raunchiness. If you’re expecting Superbad II, you probably won’t be satisfied. Nonetheless, Adventureland is lighthearted and personal and I’m betting you won’t be disappointed if you can put up with the dirty jokes, drug use and sexuality that give it its R-rating. It’s a funny and bittersweet retro comedy, reflective of the romance and naïveté of growing up. If I could narrow it down to three words, I’d simply conclude: well worth seeing.

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