30 January 2010

Movie Review: Adventureland


2009, 107mins, 15
Director: Greg Mottola
Writer: Greg Mottola
Cast includes: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Bill Hader, Ryan Reynolds, Kristen Wiig, Martin Starr
UK Release Date: 11th September 2009

“Adventureland” is a curiously vanilla production; at times very funny but boasting a truly unremarkable central narrative. Coming courtesy from the director of “Superbad” maybe I was expecting something more aggressively energetic and spunky, but still false hopes don’t account for the somewhat lifeless final product. Maybe I’m coming down a little harsh as I did find the movie sporadically entertaining, but then again can the odd comedic buzz compensate for an eternity of bad casting and awkward chemistry. I think not.

“Adventureland” is the story of James (Jesse Eisenberg) a high school graduate who after his Father’s demotion at work is forced to get a summer job. James ends up at Adventureland a low rent theme park populated by some of the weirdest folks he’s ever met. James slowly ingratiates himself into the park way of life and becomes especially fond of fellow employee Em (Kristen Stewart), eventually setting his sights on her for romantic purposes. Em is however a complicated individual with issues of her own, not least of which is a relationship with the substantially older repairman Connell (Ryan Reynolds). The film follows James as he tries to understand and win Em over, all the while working hard so his dreams of college education can be kept alive.

The casting in “Adventureland” is seriously unconvincing. Greg Mottola’s last movie “Superbad” was aided by a skilled placement of certain actors into specific roles but here nearly everyone feels out of place or boring. Eisenberg’s shtick is growing old at a rate that would make Michael Cera blush, here reworking the same screen persona we’ve seen from him in every performance he’s ever given. James is a likable dork but Eisenberg just pulls the same old fumbling and mumbling style of acting he’s grown rather dependent on; and it’s very dull. Kristen Stewart is also slowly pissing away any goodwill I may have felt for her in the past, recycling her own brand of moody and snarky characterization for the umpteenth time. She doesn’t have the charm or raw heart that we sense Mottola wants the audience to see in Em and her chemistry with Eisenberg is nonexistent. I enjoyed Bill Hader and an underused Kristen Wigg as the park owners but everyone else is bland and unadventurous, Reynolds in particular should be looking for better screen personas than the laughably one note Connell.

The screenplay by Mottola is a mixed bag, the comedy elements are sharp and well structured but the dramatic and emotional undercurrent feels incomplete and forced. Not once did I really buy Em and James as a genuine summer romance in the making. Indeed a bond that builds up between James and local hottie Lisa P (Margarita Levieva) has a more natural and believable texture. Adding to the problem is an inherent lack of charm or fresh perspective, everything about “Adventureland” has an incredibly been there done that vibe. I did laugh quite a few times during the picture and these parts were very satisfying and a nice relief from the unappealing fervid alliances at the stories centre, yet they aren’t strong enough to warrant a recommendation on their own. It’s also worth noting that Mottola has toned down the vulgarity several decibels, this is miles from the raunchy earnestness of “Superbad”.

Mottola opts for low-fi visuals in his tale of summer loving and I guess this at least suits the restrained and small scale story. The soundtrack is predictably angst filled but fairly listenable and in these small areas I guess “Adventureland” gets it right. However in the much wider and more important facets it screws itself through dodgy casting and a general lack of fizz. I wanted to like the movie but sadly I found “Adventureland” to be a crushing disappointment.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010


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