Adventureland – Movie Review
If you didn’t get the memo, “awkward” is the new “cool.” While the 80s had the boisterous ripped action star as its male archetype and the 90s had the sly urban smartass, we’re in a decade where testosterone has been relegated to frustration and leading men speak softly and carry a big shtick. One-liners after something explodes have devolved into stammering mumbles when tensions fly high. What was once a bit part of the “shy friend” had gained enough momentum to become a subgenre until today where comedy has become defined by awkward silences, Freudian slips and pop culture references. Welcome to Adventureland.
From first generation Apatow acolyte Greg Mottola (director of Superbad, and several episodes of both “Arrested Development” and “Undeclared”) comes a movie about, what else, kids in their late teens on the cusp of adulthood trying to make sense of themselves and the wacky grown-up world around them. While just as hormone-driven as the teens in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, American Pie or even Class of Nuke ‘Em High, their ‘I’m-a-good-looking-attention-seeking-young-adult’ bravado has collapsed into a quiet yearning and satisfaction, as if the protagonists are sharing their endeavors with the viewer like some trusted secret. The sly have been replaced by the shy, and in movies like this, the loudest sound is silence.
Jesse Eisenberg (Zombieland and Fred Durst’s The Education of Charlie Banks) stars as “James Brennan,” a recent college graduate who reluctantly has to fund his dreams of grad school in the fall by taking the only summer job that will accept him – a carnival. While there, as these movies often go, he has a wacky boss who is just a tad too passionate for his job (SNL’s Bill Hader and Kirsten Wiig, stealing every scene), a girl who seems interested in him (Kristen Stewart), the attractive cool guy with a horrible secret that she’s dating (Ryan Reynolds), the prettier girl who he briefly courts when things begin to go sour (Kelsey Ford), the parents that just don’t understand (Jack Gilpin and the welcome return of “Just Shoot Me’s” Wendy Malick) and the oddball friends who are the catalysts for every little change and major event that helps him find himself. I like the genre, and I’ve enjoyed the director’s previous forays into such territory. However, what made Superbad so endearing was because it touched upon so much uncharted territory of being in those formative years. Two years and countless Michael Cera performances later, Adventureland only stands out by how much it doesn’t stand out.
That’s not to say the film doesn’t try to. One such device is that it takes place in 1987. While period pieces do lend themselves to help find an audience and perhaps generate interest through either shared memories or comparable reminiscing, Adventureland reeks of a contrived nostalgia for people who weren’t alive to experience it first had. As an avid fan of my hometown heroes The Replacements and Lou Reed’s Transformer album (the latter of which becomes a crucial plotpoint) the use of music in this film seems less like capturing a moment and more like the director showing off his cool record collection in efforts to impress rock-savvy audiences nationwide. It takes a lot for me to not enjoy the inclusion of my favorite Husker-Du song onscreen, and this film does it.
At this point, writing a negative review of a film like Adventureland is like writing a negative review of Burger King. It’s a formula people love that defines itself by not being the McDonald’s that everyone’s already accustomed to. Yes, Greg Mottola does a great job capturing the frustration, uneasiness and triumph of the late-teens early-20s, but this is the guy that directed Superbad! Does this Whopper taste like the Whopper I had two years ago? Yes, but that Whopper was great because it was flame-broiled and until that point I had only had Big Macs. Am I disappointed? Yes, but maybe that’s my fault for expecting more from the same sandwich everyone else has been asking for. Adventureland is a barely filling value meal, but as strong as the sides were, I’d rather recommend Taco Bell.
We give Adventureland a 2 out of 5.
Until next time Let’s Agree to Agree!
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