Thursday, April 15, 2010


"Adventureland" (Greg Mottola, 2008) Nicely done coming-of-age comedy that has the same genial vibe of "Meatballs," or "Caddyshack," where, amidst a cast of eccentrics, the problems of the young leads are really, really serious (really...!).

New grad James Brennan (
Jesse Eisenberg) had plans to travel Europe over the Summer before proceeding with his studies, but his family's economic situation means his little entitlement parachute had developed a leak. He has to find a job with no discernible work-skills and a major that doesn't really translate to employment ("unless you're restoring a fresco or something"), so he takes a crappy job—"doing the work of lazy, pathetic morons" says work-pal Joel (Martin Starr)—as a carny at a Pittsburgh amusement park, Adventureland, run by Bobby (Bill Hader) and Paulette (Kristen Wiig).

The park is crap-tastic, and so is the job and its meager paycheck. Plus, there are the kids, their duplicitous parents, the punks, the vomit from the rides, the usual breakdowns in equipment and communication and the intrigues that go on behind the scenes.

But the joys are the usual ones in work-settings—
the people can be pretty interesting and take you out of your dull comfort zone and into another dull comfort zone that's initially pretty interesting. James is a geeky virgin (and yes, the main story plays like a more respectful version of those lame teen-deflowering comedies from the time-frame of this film, the 80's), but he has a summer's supply of good weed, he's smarter than your average carny, so he sticks out among the usual loser-drones milling about the place. Folks like Frigo (Matt Bush), James' arrested development neighbor,* Connell (Ryan Reynolds), the mechanic who hasn't quite matured yet, the afore-mentioned Joel—smart as a whip and dull as a doorknobLisa P (Margarita Levieva), the self-absorbed knock-out, and Em Lewin (Kristen Stewart), troubled slacker-chick. Brennan and Em start a spastically friendly courtship that spills over into one of those deadly earnest mis-matches that raging hormones have trouble steering clear of. But it's helped that Eisenberg and Stewart are two polar opposites acting: he is quick-silver fast, while maintaining a deadly funny dead-pan throughout; she's unfocused and just guarded enough to make her character interesting.

Because it's semi-autobiographical,
it's very male-centric, so that the guys are quirky and nuanced while the women are fascinating unfathomables, pedestaled and superficially drawn. But Mottola gets the work-place vibe right, especially in that first post-curfew touch of responsibility mixed with slacker-freedom that makes one think the pain of growing up might be behind you. It has that sense of "new crowd" work-place tribalism that feels like community until something better comes along. And it's sweetly raunchy without getting too deep in the muck, though it's probably not for the kids. And anything with Wiig and Hader in it is worth watching.

* Did I mention that Mottola directed a few episodes of the late, lamented "Arrested Development?" That helps explain the somewhat dead-pan tone of the thing.

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