Movie Review: Adventureland
The Charlotte Observer
“From the director of ‘Superbad'” proclaims the poster for “Adventureland,” the new more-or-less-comedy from director Greg Mottola. This is like promoting a Martin Scorsese gangster picture by declaring, “From the director of ‘The Last Temptation of Christ' – technically true, misleading and likely to drive off chunks of the real target audience while preparing certain people for disappointment.
Where are the horny high schoolers? The would-be inebriates with fake IDs? Loony adults who infuriate the next generation with their insipidity and doltishness? Nowhere.
You see, Mottola also made “The Daytrippers,” a much more subtle and mature (and, to my taste, funny) picture. So his movie career has come to resemble one of those families where wit and intelligence skip a generation.
The protagonists are recent college graduate James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) and college student Em Lewin (Kristen Stewart), who have dead-end jobs at a summer park called “Adventureland.” His father's recent job loss leaves him trying to raise money for grad school; she's trying to sort out her future and having pallid sex with an older park handyman (Ryan Reynolds), who'll never leave his allegedly dead marriage.
James briefly gets distracted by a gum-popping young woman (Margarita Levieva) who's also popping out of her clothes, but common sense prevails. That's the victory in all of Mottola's movies, and one thing that links them: Somebody comes to his or her senses about a relationship, usually after a little pain.
Mottola also wrote the screenplay, which is most fresh and honest when dealing with supporting characters. The handyman isn't a creepy chicken hawk, like Matthew McConaughey's character in “Dazed and Confused”; he's an amiable, sleepy, irresponsible guy who drifts in and out of affairs and isn't offended when they end.
Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader play an earnest, hardworking but mildly clueless couple who seem to be responsible for everything in the park; they're silly at times, but Mottola goes out of his way to make them likeable and not to mock them. James befriends gawky Joel (Martin Starr), whose thick glasses and quick mind have taught him to expect little from the opposite sex. Another movie would have felt obligated to find him a girlfriend; this one doesn't.
Narrative problems and occasional unmotivated behavior do hamper the story at times, but Mottola eases us past those roadblocks eventually. Eisenberg and Stewart don't grow much as characters but grow on us over time.
I imagine the pot-puffing main character stands in for Mottola; the film is set in 1987, when he was 23, and he toiled at a Long Island amusement park. Maybe that's the difference between “Superbad,” which could be about anybody, and “Adventureland” and “The Daytrippers,” which aren't interchangeable with dozens of other narratives.