Saturday, April 4, 2009

Review: Adventureland

Review: Adventureland
Stuart Kurtz
April 2, 2009

James Brennan(Jesse Eisenberg) has a problem. He is too smart to suffer fools gladly, but he is surrounded by fools. What's a nice Jewish comparative lit. and Renaissance studies boy to do? He can keep his sanity, even at the cheesy Adventureland amusement park, by seeking out the genuine under the ticky-tacky. He might just find the girl of his dreams. You never know.

James was on the fast track to a brilliant writing career. Diploma in hand, his plan was this: bum around Europe for the summer with his friend, and then head off to Columbia for graduate school. As he says, writing is an old boys network, and you need your credentials. You may have noticed from other flicks that when the hero is too sure of himself, something is bound to go awry. That inciting incident, for you lovers of the classical narrative, is in the form of his pop taking a salary hit and worse job. So much for Europe; James now has to take a financial hit too and find work to pay for grad school.

As James puts it, "I majored in comparative literature and Renaissance studies. Unless someone needs a fresco restored, I'm screwed." Since asphalt roller driver is out, he has to settle for the dregs, that is, to be a "Carny" at Adventureland amusement park near Pittsburgh. Sorry to crush your fondest memories of the amusement park, but James finds a Gamorrah of hedonism, loose sex, small-time cons, drugs, and violence. Wouldn't you know teenagers hang there (and post-teens)?

Two girls activate James's hormones. The hotty every guy wants, Lisa P.(Margarita Levieva) is a schemer and tease who doesn't know she is troubled. The real love interest is Emily, "Em", Lewin(Kristen Stewart), who definitely knows she is troubled. Ms. Stewart hangs her head and raises it to reveal expressions of simultaneous sadness, challenge, and anger. Her toking, adultering behavior is nothing unusual for the park, where she works as another Carny, but she contains emotions as deep as the Marianas Trench.

In fact, that's kind of a clue to finding the heart of this movie - finding depth under the superficial. Everything about Adventureland(the park, that is) is slick and artificial, except a few lost souls who are better than it all. The idea is that the kids work up their fantasies -sexual and otherwise- at the park, and the lucky few work out their family problems. The film never suggests a solution for every problem, but the right attire is to be genuine with who you are.

James has to learn this. His new friend, Joel Schiffman(Martin Starr), the opposite of James's Columbia roommate to be, tells James James doesn't know a good thing when he's got it. The good "thing" is Em. After saving her at his fairway ring toss game from a knife-carrying creep, Em knows James is the coolest guy she ever knew. The two are the only ones with the developing maturity to escape the bad Karma of games of the carnival and interpersonal kind and find something true.

This is not to say the other Carnies don't have potential. They certainly have similar problems to James and Em. Mike Connell, Em's other love interest, was abandoned by his father. Lisa P. feels the anxiety of her father being home-ridden and unable to work due to injury. It is the way they deal with them that is the problem.

Em and James make their blunders too. She handles her father's betrayal of her mother by recreating her father in Mike. James deals with his father's alcoholism with low self-esteem. But they, as said, are genuine people. Joel, the pipe-smoking, Gogol-toting Existentialist is the voice, with James, the voice of the true artist.

Mike Connell is the voice of the false artist. His line about having worked with Lou Reed is just a way to score on chicks. The soundtrack itself resonates with these themes. 80's (the time of the movie's setting) pop ballads deal with love and disappointment: David Bowie's "Modern Love", "Unsatisfied" by The Replacements, "I Don't Want to Know if You're Lonely" by Husker Du strike a false note of romance. The Velvet Underground's "Pale Blue Eyes" and Lou Reed's "Satelite Love" are the real deal.

Adventureland bleeps and flashes and twirls you through the immaturity of late adolescence (and extended adolescence), but it has the complexity to allow sincerity to appear now and then. As for the game of love, there are even two winners. And that's no chance.

Adventureland is presented by Miramax.
It is rated R for sexual situations, drug use, violence, and language.
Directed by Greg Mattola
It opens on April 3, 2009
It features Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig of SNL, and Ryan Reynolds of X Men Wolverine (in theaters May 1, 2009) Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

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