I remember being bummed that I wasn’t able to catch the coming-of-age comedy film Adventureland when it was in theaters last April, so it was a real treat to finally catch up with it when it was released on Blu-ray last Tuesday.
Writer / director Greg Mottola’s semi-autobiographical tale about a recent college grad languishing away at the “worst job on Earth” at Adventureland Amusement Park in 1987 doesn’t exactly benefit visually from the Blu-ray format. But the movie has an intentional, gritty feel – as if it’s been filtered through someone’s memory.
The movie does a good job setting itself within the time period without pushing too many “Hey, it’s the 80’s!” cultural touchstones. Yuppies and Madonna are mentioned here and there, but the protagonists in this movie are far, far away from the mainstream. For the most part, they’re grossly over-educated, analytical and sarcastic shoe-gazing romantics with a Lou Reed obsession. I guess the comedy is supposed to come from the contrast of otherwise smart people doing what Martin Starr’s supporting character called “the work of pathetic, lazy morons.”
Falling somewhere between Shia LaBeouf and Michael Cera on the Geeky/Sensitive Leading Man Scale, Jesse Eisenberg plays James Brennan – a recent college grad whose plans to travel Europe with a friend are dashed when his Father loses his job. As things get worse for James’s family and his future in grad school at Columbia University is threatened, he’s forced to take a summer job. Overqualified for every job he applies for, James is forced to take a job at the local, run-down amusement park Adventureland.
The movie serves James a romantic interest in the form of Kristen Stewart’s Em Lewin. I have to admit that I was prepared to hate Stewart going into the movie by virtue of her preening, posturing, sneering performance in Twilight. But in Adventureland, she’s fascinating to watch. Em has a lot of problems at home and despite her cool and friendly exterior, she doesn’t really want to be known by anyone. Her performance really made me reconsider my previous negative attitude toward her as an actress.
James’s confidant at Adventureland is Joel, played by Martin Starr. A sarcastic and somewhat lonely intellectual who shows James the ropes at the park. Mottola gives Joel the pretentious habit of smoking a pipe, but makes him self-aware enough to know that it’s obnoxious. “It’s a revolting affection,” he acknowledges. “But it relaxes me.”
The rest of the cast is rounded out by Ryan Reynolds as the park’s mechanic and Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as the park’s managers.
Reynolds finally does something very interesting with his innate charm and makes his character a little sleazy for once. Hader and Wiig aren’t in the movie as much as the advertising for the film would have led you to believe. But they are used effectively throughout the movie to add comedic punch between scenes.
There really isn’t anything in Adventureland that hasn’t been done by a thousand other coming-of-age movies. But the film is very relaxed and sure about itself. More than anything, it seems to be about hanging out, getting high and letting relationships unfold. Watching it, I was actually reminded of Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused – another period piece about hanging out, getting high and letting relationships unfold. The only difference here is that the jocks and popular kids have been completely replaced by the intellectuals and misfits.
Similar to Dazed and Confused, however, is the film’s excellent soundtrack. David Bowie, Big Star, The Cure, Crowded House, The New York Dolls, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Replacements, The Velvet Underground and, of course, Lou Reed wrap the film in a perfect period time capsule.
Inventively, in addition to skipping ahead to specific scenes, one of the menu features on the Blu-ray lets you skip to scenes using specific songs from the soundtrack. Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” appears as a menu option no less than 4 times – a funny callback to a running joke throughout the film.
Additional bonus features include audio commentary with Greg Mottola and actor Jesse Eisenberg and the requisite deleted scenes. There’s a 17-minute making-of documentary and a few interesting behind-the-scenes featurettes utilizing some of the supporting cast members. “Lisa P’s Guide To Style” instructs you on all the “latest” 80’s fashion. “Welcome to Adventureland” gathers a couple of commercials promoting the park, the employee orientation kit and a peek at the official drug policy. “Frigo’s Ball Tap” instructs you on the proper technique and variety that is the art of tapping your friends in the balls.
Adventureland didn’t set the world on fire at the box office last April, pulling in $16 million domestically during its theatrical run. That’s a shame. The movie is confidently told and competently performed. It deserves a bigger audience and hopefully it will find it on DVD.