Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Review: Adventureland

RATING: Recommend it
ANALOGY: "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" meets "Dazed and Confused"
SYNOPSIS: A coming-of-age comedy set in the summer of 1987 about an uptight recent college grad (Jesse Eisenberg) who is forced to take a job at a local amusement park when he realizes he can't afford his dream European vacation.
SOUNDTRACK: Yes, full of stellar '80s tunes. You'll never think of "Rock Me Amadeus" the same way again.

REVIEW: "Adventureland" gives to the world '80s nostalgia in a sophisticated way, plenty of belly laughs, a wide-ranging cast, a believable plot and an overall enjoyable 2 hours at the movies.

The amusement park locale is fertile ground for hijinx and relationship growth. And really, any place where bulk of its employees are high school and college students is going to provide that fertile ground. Director Greg Mottola ("Superbad") actually based this film on his experiences as a teenager working at an amusement park in New Jersey. The first-hand experience shines through in behind-the-scenes details -- i.e. How do they rip off midway game players? And where do those stuffed bananas with googly eyes come from? -- and in the characters that inhabit the park each summer.

The '80s setting feels authentic, like it actually could have been shot during the John Hughes Era (unlike, say, "The Wedding Singer," which over-accentuates the '80s the clothing, music and pop culture references purely for cheap laughs). "Adventureland" winks at the bad hair, stone-washed jeans and Material Girl personas, but those things blend in with what really is a timeless coming-of-age plot.

I've heard Eisenberg ("Rodger Dodger") described as the poor man's Michael Cera. The analogy fits -- awkward, mumbling, poofy hair and adorable -- but he brings more maturity to his character. Rightly so, as James is a recent college grad and not a recent high school grad. Kristen Stewart's main acting technique is running her fingers through her long, chestnut hair, but somehow, it works and soon the audience is as drawn to her Em as Eisenberg's James is.

Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig (both of "SNL" fame) absolutely kill in their roles as married park managers. And Martin Scott ("Knocked Up") puts a new spin on the nerdy intellectual, giving him an almost goth-emo-indie feel -- as opposed to a McLovin' type.

While Mottola's follow-up outing to "Superbad" likely won't be as oft-quoted as its predecessor, "Adventureland" has the potential to catch on as a more cultish film, a la "Dazed and Confused," for the 20- to 30-something crowd.

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