Perhaps it’s an unwritten law of the Steeler Nation that it’s followers have to like films that feature anything reading “Steelers”. So it should come to no surprise that even though Kristen Stewart (who sullied her good faith with me thanks to that vampire movie) is in the shot, the best part of Adventureland is seeing an extra in a Jack Lambert jersey. No that’s not the best part and says nothing of the quality of the film. Adventureland is Greg Mottola’s follow up to the surprisingly funny Superbad and for the most part is a success.
James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) is set to have his graduation trip to Europe but his parents inform him that they won’t be able to afford it and that they’ll have to move to Pittsburgh (WOO!) from New York. Due to his parents financial woes, James embarks on a job hunt and lands up at the local Adventureland that is run by Bobby (Bill Hader) and Paulette (Kristen Wiig). James works as an operator of games at the park and befriends Joel (Martin Starr) and develops a crush on “Em” (Kristien Stewart) while being teased by park hottie Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva.) As much as James hates his new job, he learns it might be all he needs to get him ready for real life.
The thing that needs to be understood about Adventureland is that it wants to tell a story rather than go for laughs and that’s where some are going to leave upset. True, there are laughs with Bill Hader delivering the best one when he chases after a punk with a baseball bat but otherwise this movie is about the characters. Even though it’s set in the 80′s, Adventureland feels like a 90′s independent film that’s slightly pretentious. It bothers me in all of Wes Anderson’s films and it’s bothersome here, yet I found myself actually liking this flick. Maybe it is because it focuses more on characters than laughs or that it’s really not too terrible a story. Aside from Kristen Stewart all of the actors do a fine job especially Eisenberg. His character is certainly a lot more awkward than Evan from Superbad and Eisenberg hits all the right notes of awkwardness. Aiding him is Martin Starr who’s Joel is the quintessential freak/geek hybrid. He’s basically embodies every super nerd you’ve ever known with a hint of melancholy added to him.
In fact, now looking back on it most of the characters are reminiscent of folks one would have likely crossed in their lifetime. Perhaps it’s most true for Margarita Levieva who plays the sexy and sultry Lisa. Her dance moves are sure to turn on every straight male with a working penis in the audience. What will also happen is said dudes will remember that one hot temptress who was “looking for a nice guy” and Levieva does a wonderful job of leaving that impression on the male audience. It’s a tricky character and performance because you almost want to feel for her and think it’s genuine when she wants to get with James only to have her undo it all towards the end. Ryan Reynolds plays the ‘villain’ if you will, of this story and yet it’s tough to hate him. He’s trapped in a marriage he doesn’t want and his music career is washed up. He tries to project himself as ‘cool’ when he brags about hanging out with Lou Reed but ultimately he knows he’s a failure. Reynolds seems to be fit for it and does an excellent portrayal. Too bad we’ll have to go back to hating him in a few months.
It should come as no surprise that the one character I felt no connection for was Kristen Stewart’s, “Em”, and that’s because she’s basically playing Kristen Stewart. There’s only one instance where she shows an ounce of emotion when she yells at an anti-Semetic girl for blowing off Joel. Otherwise Em smokes pot, drinks, and wonders what it was like to date vampires just like the real Kristen Stewart. All her smiles or other sense of emotion feel forced. I will give credit where it’s due and admit I enjoyed it when she rips the wig off of her soon-to-be stepmother Francy (Mary Birdsong) because I’ve wanted to something similar to someone in a similar position (not to mention, they seem to have picked Francy’s character from someone I’ve crossed paths with in real life.) The standouts by far are Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig who are demented couple that run Adventureland. Hader’s stint with the baseball bat and announcing the horse race are terrific while Wiig plays the deadbeat wife who seems content with her life.
Understandably I’ve made a lot of the characters and that’s because they’re the crux of the film. Greg Mottola does a fine job directing this with a kind of sympathetic attitude toward the madness. If anything it seemed like he showed some growth since Superbad even if the overall film isn’t as good as his previous effort. It’s not his fault though, as there’s one man who I wish would have been destroyed in glorious Zack Snyder slow-motion. Matt Bush’s Tommy Frigo is up there with that idiot from Miss March as one of the most annoying on-screen characters ever. Anytime he ungraces the screen you wish Ryan Reynolds has a X-Men Origins or Blade: Trinity flashback and promptly murders him. He’s an annoying shit that needs to be dropped from the highest building in Pittsburgh while the citizens waive their Terrible Towels in enjoyment.
Adventureland is a decent little flick that with the right mindset can be enjoyed. It’s not a comedy, but a story of a boy getting himself ready for the real world. It’s going to be tough to not watch it and attach people you’ve met to the faces. It has it’s problems like the script that falters here and there and no fiery deaths for Frigo, but overall it’s a film that ultimately takes us back to the time we knew we had to grow up. Plus, as a die-hard Steeler fan, it’s tough to hate a film that has a Jack Lambert jersey even if Bella Swan enters the scene.