9 things I liked about Adventureland
1) With all of the muscle cars parked in front of the cineplex, everyone else was going to see Fast and Furious last Friday. Those watching Adventureland comprised a total of six. With all of the testosterone conveniently elsewhere, we felt lucky.
2) With no vampires in sight, Kristen Stewart holds her own as the self-loathing, sleepy-eyed Em, co-worker with graduate James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) in the games section of the cheesy amusement park Adventureland, set in Pittsburgh in 1987.
3) Few movies evoke a period as skillfully as Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused, but Adventureland comes close (Fandango, American Graffiti and Fast Times at Ridgemont High also come to mind). All of the period details of Adventureland ring true: the prevalence of marijuana, the ghastly Foreigner cover band, the mother reading Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities, the Buzzcocks poster on the wall, and the endless minor degradations of spending one's summer in one's hometown (where's one's former best friend from the fourth grade greets you by punching you in the crotch). James has already moved on from this world since he's been accepted to Columbia University grad school, but he's forced by financial necessity to slum around, sneaking beers and cleaning up vomit in the games booth. Even in comparison to the theatrics of Greg Mottola's previous film Superbad, Adventureland is singularly leisurely in its rhythms. It feels like the most uncommercial of post-adolescent angst comedies.
4) As Joel, the mordant co-worker who plans on using his interest in Russian Literature and Slavic languages to eventually get a job as a taxi driver some day, Martin Starr channels DeeDee Ramone and one of the Hanson brothers in Slapshot. I have known people exactly like him, eager to bitterly acknowledge the full crappiness of the world where they "are doing the work of pathetic lazy morons." Even when someone throws a corndog at his head, he steals every scene he's in.
5) Although writer/director Mottola flirts with mocking the adults The Graduate-style, he never fully gives in to the temptation. Adventureland has lead characters too close to maturity themselves to fully want to ridicule the authority figures. When James has the opportunity to narc on his father for carrying a bottle of liquor in his car, he refrains. I was especially struck by how even the amusement park managers, Bobby and Paulette (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig), become semi-sympathetic as the film goes on. Immersed every day amongst litterers, cheats (but then again the park cheats too), bullies, and vomiters, they often see the worst of humanity, but Bobby defends James with a baseball bat ("Give me a reason! Give me a reason! You don't know what I'm capable of!") when some goon threatens to beat James up. Then Bobby coolly returns to discussing park business with Paulette. When James loses a "giant-ass panda" to some sneaky yokels, Bobby doesn't fire James even though he was supposed to.
6) Falco's "Rock Me Amadeus" makes for the perfect song to drive you insane through repetition.
7) As the fun-loving seductress, Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva) tries to lure James away from Em, and she has many of the guys in the park mooning over her physical charms, but there's one scene where she fully shows James how cruel she can be. She starts up an evil rumor about Em that quickly spreads throughout the park. When James confront Lisa about it, she replies by continuing to dance with ghastly, impersonal robotic efficiency on the edge of the carnival ride, as James walks away, disgusted. It's a striking shot of a girl determined to be an alluring amusement no matter what.
8) Adventureland includes multiple songs by Lou Reed.
9) More than once, I had to work in a wood stove stand in an Ohio county amusement park every day for over a week. The experience struck me as creepy and surreal, because once you have had your fill of "fun," then the park rapidly becomes something forced, garish, repetitive, and bizarre. In this context, a place designed for cheap entertainment can become alienating and depressing quickly. Even though the film ends happily, I give Greg Mottola credit for capturing that sensation in the course of Adventureland.