cinematographique

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Adventureland ****

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AdventurelandExpectations can be a real bummer. The way a public accesses film now depends almost entirely on marketing, on names attached, on distribution channel. Those who walk in expecting a repeat of past directorial success will be often be sorely disappointed. And such disappointment is no valid basis for criticism. In the case of the inimitable Adventureland, inappropriate expectations were set up by Greg Mottola’s last film, that Apatow behemoth, Superbad. But it has more in common with the low-highbrow indie comedy of The Squid and the Whale, star Jesse Eisenberg’s last picture (yet without the distance and seriousness to temper occasional dalliance with smarmy pseudo-intellectuality; although thankfully, it keeps on the right side of the line). It has even drawn comparison to Richard Linklater’s Dazed & Confused, and Before Sunrise, for its intimate and sensitive exploration of the trouble with finding oneself before embarking on a career and life.

In that sense, it called to mind the themes of The Graduate, and with similar indirectness, it penetrates to the heart of the feelings and the half-chance commitments that define this stage of life. And like The Graduate, it deals with loss of virginity, rediscovery of identity and nihilism, but with an up-to-date candor and sense of humour. Yet oddly, it is set half-way between here and there, in 1987’s Pittsburgh.

Adventureland2Forced by father’s demotion (and resulting financial imperatives) to abandon his grand tour of Europe and admission to grad school, James (Eisenberg) must look for work to fund his idyllic plans. Overqualified and unemployable, he can only work at the bizarre local funfair, the eponymous Adventureland. Immediately pegged as a “Games” kind of guy, despite his protest he is lumped with the layabouts, weirdos and geeks (set in opposition to the jocks, tarts and sleazy older guys working “Rides”). Lo and behold, he discovers himself through a blossoming relationship with troubled co-worker Em (Kristen Stewart). Her eclectic and well-played baggage includes a socially vampiric stepmother, deceased mom, drinking problem and misjudged relationship with married maintenance guy Connell (Ryan Reynolds, for once given a role in which he can stretch himself, delivering a charming and tragic performance).

These characters and their story subvert clichés and develop into a magnificent little fictional world which it’s a pleasure to indulge in. Despite being pitched as a sensitive humanist drama, at least in contrast to Superbad, it wrings out a lot of laughs and qualifies as a very successful comedy. Coupled with close attention to detail in the reconstruction of its era, there is an authorial quality to Adventureland and authenticity in its characters. A real pleasure to behold.

 

Adventureland, Dir. & Writ. Greg Mottola, Star. Jesse Eisenberg & Kristen Stewart, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, USA, 2009 // Originally published in June 2009
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