Saturday, April 4, 2009
Adventureland-the first great movie of the year
Movies like Adventureland are rare. They see their characters lovingly without idealizing them. They see a place and time so truly that we forget we are watching a period piece. They remember what it felt like to be young and in love. Remembering the friends you wish would go away when you're talking to a girl, the awkward silences before you figured out how to really talk with women, the feeling of what it's like to be accepted by the one person you wish would accept you (that one's not exclusive to younger days), and the myriad of memorable people that may only come into your life during the course of one crazy summer.
It's 1987 and James (Jesse Eisenberg) has to get a summer job when his parents aren't able to help him pay for his graduation trip through Europe or pay for graduate school and an apartment in New York City. After being turned down by everyone because he has no job experience, James gets a job at Adventureland, the local theme park. There he meets the managers Bobby and Paulette (Bill Hader and Kristin Wiig), who put him to work in the games section of the park alongside Emily (Kristen Stewart), whom he quickly falls for. James also gets to be friends with the maintenance guy Connell (Ryan Reynolds), who just may have jammed with Lou Reed, one of James' heroes.
Jesse Eisenberg is just so subtly good as James I'm afraid people will underestimate him as an actor. He has the kind of effortless charm and real emotions that John Cusack used to bring to these kinds of young adult roles. He has a bit of Woody Allen in his performance as well, but never comes off like a caricature of either actor. He's his own person. Kristen Stewart is so beautifully fascinating that you can't help but fall in love with her at least a little bit. She brings a certain delicate intelligence to her character that I'm not sure many actresses her age could pull off. Each supporting performance is spot on, with Martin Starr in particular being worthy of mention as James' fellow game booth worker Joel. He sees himself and the world around him with a clarity that none of the other characters possess, giving James the kind of advice that he needs, rather than the kind he's been taking from Connell.
Director Greg Mottola's last movie, Superbad, was one of the most realistic depictions of teenage mindset, life, and emotions that I've ever seen (barring the McLovin storyline). At the time, I gave most of the credit for that to writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, and stars Jonah Hill and Michael Cera. Adventureland makes me think that maybe a lot of that credit deserves to go to Mottola. He takes on writing duties this time, telling a semi-autobiographical story that he just flat out nails as director. It's a hard movie to classify because everything in it works so well, and it's basically about life. So it has comedy, drama, romance, awkwardness, friendship, punches to the crotch, and maybe a chase scene or two.
Sometimes you watch a movie so good you just sit in your seat and hope it knows how good it could be if it doesn't screw it up in the end. Adventureland is that kind of movie, and it doesn't screw up anything.