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Ride this Wonder Wheel! Adventureland review

 

Greg Mottola's follow-up to his mega-hit “Superbad” takes horny youths and recreational drug use to the amusement park. “Adventureland” is the story of James (Jesse Eisenberg), a recent college grad who is still plagued by the V-word (virgin, in case you were wondering). His plans to go the Europe for the summer are halted when his father gets demoted at work, forcing James to stay with his parents in Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh has had a nice run of films shot in their city lately). James, who needs dough to move to New York for the fall, isn’t seeing many job opportunities in his major "Comparative Literature and Renaissance Studies." With slim options, cash-trapped James accepts a job in the last place he wanted: the run-down theme park Adventureland.

James makes friends with offbeat characters like Joel (Martin Starr), a geeky local with a passion for Russian literature, and his old pal Tommy Frigo (Matt Bush) who bust James' balls in every way possible. Joel shows James the ol’ carny tricks and warns him not to let guests win the huge stuffed panda in bottle games or he will be fired by Adventureland's screwy owners (“SNL's” Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig).

James' shyness and restraint capture the interests of Em (Kristen Stewart), who shares James' disdain for the theme park. Em’s a rebel who has serious issues with her status-conscious mother-in-law (Mary Birdsong). She is also a great person with genuine valor, protecting James from low-life customers ready to stab him for not giving them the panda they cheated to get.

Another element of these films includes a house party scene with an unlimited supply of vodka and weed, leading to a sexually driven dip in the pool. Em and James do just that, tussling in the water and getting high. Things with Em have a great start for the romantic James, who might finally get laid - or find love.

Unbeknown to James, Em is getting it on with the park's handyman Connell (Ryan Reynolds), the older, cooler guy who entices young ladies with his stories of jamming with Lou Reed. Connell is stuck in an unwanted marriage, and conducts his adultery in the basement of his mom's house.

James is up for another heaping helping of conflict when the "Amanda Jones" in town, Lisa P (Margarita Levieva), takes a liking to nice-guy James. With Em on the fence about wanting a strict relationship with James, he takes the advice of Connell to date Lisa P. His make-out section with the tempting Lisa P leaves him feeling guilty.

Em, on the other hand, comes to terms with her love for James. However, she needs to decide her situation with Connell. Can the two resolve all those obstacles and be together, or will the summer full of inedible corn dogs and crappy Advertureland rides end on a sour note?

Mottola uses the ‘80s as the backdrop for “Adventureland,” applying some of the formulated aspects which made those ‘80s movies so cool. But this film avoids the silliness of most of those films, adding layers to the characters and setting. The melancholic climax of “Superbad” takes full shape here where James and Em grow as people – making you want to cheer for them.

The film also brings up issues of religious and social backgrounds that keep some kids from forming bonds. It is an aspect more substantial than the usual bully/dweeb battle, in-and-out crowd duels that plague youth romantic comedies. I think this movie suffered from bad advertising in its theatrical run, since it is not the raunchy farce Mottola displayed in “Superbad,” but a character-driven dramedy that abandons foul humor and Jonah Hill's annoying rants. This is a pretty good film.

Accolades in the acting department for all cast members, especially Ryan Reynolds and Kristen Stewart. Reynolds, who plays a guy who could have easily been despicable, adds a sensibility to an emotionally detached Connell. Reynolds' most famous performance from his early acting years, Van Wilder, seems to come full circle with Connell, since he approaches the handyman like a guy who can't give up the irresponsibility of youth while real commitments stand in his way. I like this actor - I just hope he can stop doing junk like “The Proposal.”

Stewart, for her part, shows honesty with Em. Stewart's simplicity serves right for the movie's heroine, since a lots of her emotions need to stay under her skin, and she evokes them when they mean the most. Hopefully she will stick around before the 2022 airing of “Where Are They Now?” tries to figure out what happened to that pretty girl who fell in love with the world's lamest vampire. –JR

P.S: This movie's soundtrack is awesome! Lou Reed, Squeeze, INXS, and even Expose tunes get star treatment. Veteran indie rockers Yo La Tengo fill out the score nicely.

Trailer:

Credits:

Directed by: Greg Mottola
Written by: Greg Mottola
Cast: Kelsey Ford, Michael Zegen, Jesse Eisenberg

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Source of the Bitter: John Rojas

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