It’s a fairly standard narrative. A filmmaker surrogate falls in love for the first time. Recently it was done in The Wackness. The main character (generally nerdy) meets a girl with some experience who trains him in the ways of love. She may or may not stick around, and the context is often a location that is familiar to the author. It’s fair to say that both the best and worst advice to give an aspiring writer is to write what they know. And yet, as familiar as this material can be, Greg Mottola’s Adventureland is nuanced, and it gets its characters. My review after the jump.
James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) has graduated college and has been accepted into Columbia, but his parents are having financial difficulties, so they can’t pay for his schooling. To help make some cash, he gets a job at Adventureland as a carny. He wants to work rides, but gets stuck doing games, mostly the horse racing game. There he meets his new crew: “Em” (Kristen Stewart) the girl he immediately starts crushing on, Joel (Martin Starr) the intellectual with a pipe but comes across as a huge nerd, and Tommy Frigo (Matt Bush) who has a habit of punching James in the cock. His bosses are Paulette (Kristen Wiig) and Bobby (Bill Hader), and the maintenance man is Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds), the cool older guy who tells stories of having jammed with Lou Reed. And then there’s Lisa P (Margarita Levieva), the hot girl of the park. James starts a relationship with Em, but both have complications. With James suffering from getting hit on by Lisa P, and Em hiding her secret affair.
Greg Mottola talks on the commentary about the soundtracks of people’s lives, and one of the great things about Adventureland is the use of music. From the period songs like “Rock Me Amadeus” and “Bastards of Young” to extensive use of the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed. Such may help carry the movie, but it’s one of the film’s great textures. Jerry Harrison once said of Talking Heads fans that he always figures he’d get along with them because they were fans of the band, and this is one of those films that if you don’t like this soundtrack, then you probably aren’t a very interesting person.
But what makes the film work is that even though it is a budding romance, the supporting cast is completely fleshed out. You get a sense of Martin Starr’s character, who is all too aware of who he is in the world. There’s Reynolds’s Mike, the guy who is really good looking, but probably never had to work for anything, and so his talent and life have atrophied into taking advantage of those around him, and then there’s Em, which is probably the richest character in the film. She’s damaged, and trying to figure out her life. The film also understands class, and the film is underlined by it.
But the main text is young love, and the film gets it, without turning James into a complete loser. He’s out of his depth, but he’s competent. Assured, but not sure. It’s a strong personal work.
Miramax presents the Blu-ray of the film in widescreen (1.78:1) and in 5.1 DTS HD. The transfer is excellent, though the surround track is best used in the music. There’s a commentary by Mottola and Eisenberg which Mottola offers great insights into the making of, and delves slightly into how much was taken from his life. There’s a making of (17 min.) that talks to the main cast and crew, three deleted scenes (2 min.) with optional commentary with Mottola and Eisenberg, and then more joke supplements. “Frigo’s Ball Taps” (3 min.) offers a menu of different sorts of nutt punching, “Lisa P’s Guide to Style” (2 min.) mocks the era, and “Welcome to Adventureland” offers two fake TV spots (2 min.), and two employee training videos (4 min.) and a number of Easter Eggs (I found four). The Blu-ray also comes with a digital copy.