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A MOMENT ALMOST PERFECTLY CAPTURED 

 

picture - AdventurelandMovie Review

by Kevin Bowen

published April 3, 2009

 

Adventureland

rated R

now playing nationwide

 

When a filmmaker decides to make the film of his youth, he soon faces a critical choice.

 

He can either set it in the past, as it happened, or he can update it to modern times, parading it inside contemporary clothing, slang, and cultural touchstones. In fact, this choice usually becomes a tradeoff. With the former you get authenticity. With the latter, you can market it better to today's teen-agers and thereby improve its chances at the box office.

 

The best recent example of the latter is Juno. A big hit, yes. But it strikes me that Diablo Cody’s pregnant heroine is a mid-90s teenager masquerading in the high school of today. As I’ve said before, Juno is like watching an episode of “The Wonder Years” set in Ridgemont High in which Kevin tries to get Spiccoli to ditch class and go to the peace rally. While I am more positive than negative on Juno, there is a distracting dissonance between the character and the times.

 

In the former category, you tend to get films of limited box office appeal that can turn out to be classics. Think Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Or Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan. Or Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused.  Beyond their humor and the filmmaker’s personal stamp of affection, these films allow you to soak in a time and place for one moment. They don’t become sensations. But they last.

 

picture - AdventurelandAside from some lapses where it sinks into merely being a movie, Adventureland, from Superbad’s Greg Mottola, is the latter - a nervy, nostalgic park ride through another man’s memory. It will be advertised as a comedy, but what it goes for is a plausible sweetness and a sense of the bygone, with humor occasionally wandering in. This film is such a gentle look at young adulthood; when they finally write the book on this era of teen/young adult films, this one should lead. 

 

I could tell you that Adventureland, set in 1987 Pittsburgh, is the story of a recent college graduate forced to take a summer amusement park job to pay for an Ivy League grad school. The comparative literature major hangs out for a summer with the people he wouldn’t meet at school. He’s just at the age when the zits have worn off and he suddenly finds himself the object of female interest. He spends three months doing all the things he missed in high school – smoking pot, forging bonds, falling in love.

 

And yet the film belongs to all of its characters. The love interest, just damaged enough to be exotic. The lazy hipster cynic. The married skirt-chasing handyman (a really good Ryan Reynolds).  There’s the park bombshell, forever locked in time writhing to “Come Go With Me,” trapped eternally in one lonesome moment of stonewashed glory.

 

picture - AdventurelandYet for all its head-meet-nail attention on characters, Adventureland stands out for its intangibles. It so hits the right mood, the enjoyable wasting of an unnecessary summer when everything seems to have stopped for three months. Driving around with a girl you like when you know something is going to happen, sooner or later. Being in a parking lot after work, gossiping, joking, having a beer, and standing around in the evening heat. What Adventureland has done is capture that feeling so precisely, and spread it from corner to corner, that feeling of a summer job as a giant, confusing in-between.

 

So I figured it out. Kristen Stewart is the new Jennifer Connelly, in more ways than just having dark hair and blue eyes. A good girl but not an innocent. Sweet but damaged. In need of saving. She’s such a remarkably casual presence onscreen. Her Twilight alter ego Bella Swan has the right name – it’s impossible to tell how hard the webbed feet are paddling. Equal to her casualness is Jesse Eisenberg, who plays like a brainier Michael Cera without the shackles of perpetual awkwardness.

 

Adventureland slips late in the film, as it slouches toward expectation. It’s not a crime, but we know the story: that we get the ending that we want rather than the ending that we need. Still, as I watched the final lovers’ embrace, I found myself asking the most important question that an autobiographical film can get you to ask. Whatever happened to them? My inner cynic tells me to give them five months. The inner romantic tells me to wish for more. Only Mottola knows the answer. And he ain’t telling.

 

kevinbowen @ stageandcinema.com

 

 
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