Adventureland
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Adventureland

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Prior to settling in to the profession that will carry us through most of our lives it is typical that while much younger to have an assortment of unusual jobs. St the time we had to drag ourselves out of bed to get to them it may have felt like the worse of all possible decisions. We stick with it because jobs like this almost always are intended to earn cash for a particular, laudable goal. Hopefully by the time you have gone beyond that goal and seen a bit more of life you can look back at those jobs with a smile. In college I pushed a hot dog cart in Queens for school money. There is nothing like standing in the hot summer day next to a vat of hot water to keep you focused on you goal. Thinking back on the hundreds of comic movies I’ve come across over the year I really can’t say a lot of them dealt with this situation. You would think it was a natural full of comic and dramatic potential; dealing with something the audience can readily identify with. Now there is one movie that has taken up the challenge doing so with unexpected successes; ‘Adventureland’. Even though you will recognize many of the cast here from the latest batch of Saturday Night Live cast but the good news is this movie seems to be the exception to the SNL cast curse of flop flicks. Perhaps it is because no one cast member is given the responsibility of carrying the entire movie. They are used in their already proven capacity as an ensemble troupe. This film delivers something that the typical ‘R’ rated comedy. There some course language and sexual references but not the infatuation with overindulgence in drugs, alcohol and sex that fuel other movies of this rating. ‘Adventureland’ is a more gentle film where the humor comes from the heart.

The movie was written and directed by Greg Mottola who is no stranger to offbeat comedy. His first big film break was with ‘Daytrippers’ followed by critically acclaimed Televisions series such as the brilliant but cancelled ‘Undeclared’ on the cable smash "\’Arrested Development’. His previous film ‘Superbad’ became an instant cult classic. This film is the entry into a more mature phase of Mottola’s career. The jokes and sight gags are replaced with exceptionally sharp character driven humor. All too many film makers try to recreate a huge hit typically falling flat with a mere echo of the previous flick. In this case Mottola deliberately took a different path and the audience is rewarded with a fresh, intelligently crafted comedy that is one of the best this year for the genre. In creating a film like this Mottola was faced with many decisions and the easy way out would be to use well trod elements from countless other flicks. At its core this is a coming of age movie which usually means sex and drugs in a college setting. Here we start to appreciate the imagination of Mr. Mottola. His central character, James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) has just graduated college and hoped to take the summer before grad school in Europe with his friends. When the economic woes hit his father the family income is reduced and James is faced with getting a summer job or else graduate studies in Columbia will not be possible.

This is not his only dilemma; his romantic life as also taken a nose dive. At the end of school party James is heading for an intimate moment with his girlfriend and he discloses he is still a virgin. Considering they have only been dating a couple of weeks it was a case of too much information too quickly. James quickly learns that an undergraduate degree in literature didn’t provide him with a marketable job skill. Dejected he winds up at a small amusement park, ‘Adventureland’ and after a brief chat with the manager, Bobby (Bill Hader), he is hired. His co-workers are a motley crew of misfits including Frigo (Matt Bush), who constantly hits James in the groin and general repairman, Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds), a wannabe musician who claims to have played with Lou Reed. In one way or another no one there can admit to a personal failure or disappointment. The one bright spot for James is when a fellow worker, Emily "Em" Lewin (Kristen Stewart) saves James from an angry customer. They become friends and they begin to open up to each other; Em about her horrible step mother Francie (Mary Birdsong) and James about his virginity but it doesn’t seem to matter. The relationship is complicated sine Em is having an affair with Mike who is anything but faithful to her. Ultimately the romantic triangle is revealed and Em leaves. Eventually James looks for her in order to provide the much needed happy ending.

The film has an incredible flow to it; the pacing is impeccable. The cast is exceptional in bringing the witty script to life; I have always been a fan of Reynolds since his time in the sit-com ‘Two guys and a girl’. His easy going manner and laid back persona are perfect for the affable antagonist here. Right now Stewart is hot with her role in the new ‘Twilight franchise. It is good to see here reach out for other more diversified characters to prevent getting type cast. This is a fun time that should not be missed.

Posted 08/20/09

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