Another case of terribly deceiving trailers, like Duplicity, Adventureland comes across as a wacky summer teen-sex comedy, in the mold of the ‘80s (when the story takes place). In the trailers, they show lots of Bill Hader (Superbad) and Kristen Wiig (misidentified in an earlier review as Katharine Wiig), who have a great and funny chemistry as the couple that manages the amusement part. They reference Superbad which was not entirely froth, but which had a very light feel overall.
The trailers even set it up to look like a mishap with the corn dogs causes hallucinations. Zany!
OK, so, Hader and Wiig are great. And very funny. But they’re really just a sideshow in what is essentially a romance. Not even a romantic-comedy, but a fairly heavy clash of two people trying to love each other.
In the lead is Jesse Eisenberg (Squid and the Whale) as James, looking a lot like the wispy Michael Cera, but with a fierce undercurrent of strong passion, and the waifish Kristen Stewart (hot off Twilight).
As our story open, Jesse’s dad has been “reassigned”, meaning they now don’t have the money to send him to Europe. They don’t even have the money to help him out at Columbia, where he’s been accepted into the Masters program for Journalism. So he gets a job at Adventureland, being not qualified for anything else. (That strikes me as a stretch; were there no temp office jobs for college grads in Pittsburgh in the ’80s? But, rolling with it….)
There at the park, he meets Joel (Martin Starr of Superbad), a morose but highly intelligent college graduate who majored in Russian and Eastern European Literature, and ultra-cool musician/maintenance older guy Connell (Ryan Reynolds in the role Paul Rudd would have done ten years ago). He also meets the sharp, broody Em (Stewart) and the shallow, curvy Lisa P (Margaraita Levieva, looking more ’80s than any of them).
I’d like to give a shout out to all the smart, curvy women who are tired of this stereotype, by the way. It’s necessary for the plot, here, though.
Basically, James is the romantic type. He’s at least 22, and still a virgin. It’s not that the opportunity hasn’t arisen, it’s that he wants for it to be worthy of a Shakespeare sonnet:
Being your slave, what should I do but tend
Upon the hours and times of your desire?
He decides to break up with his steady girlfriend on the night she was going to bed him because he didn’t want to be a slave to the hours and times of her desire.
This is not your ’80s-guy-tries-to-get-laid-with-wacky-consequences movie. James’ virginity is not played for laughs, awkward and embarrassing as it is, when he sits down with Em face-to-face to compare sexual histories. And they are both embarrassed for different reasons.
James falls for Em very quickly, but Em, who has suffered her own family traumas, is currently having an affair with the married Connell. Connell uses his cachet as a musician (though we never, ever hear him play, and the band we do hear is awful) to attract the young girls into his mother’s basement (no joke!).
So while James is falling harder and harder for Em, she’s feeling worse and worse about herself and trying to slow him down. His quirky charm attracts Lisa P who, against his better instincts and with Connell’s encouragement, takes her on a date. He’s wracked with guilt, unaware of Em’s relationship.
You can see how rough this is going to get, can’t you?
And it does.
There are many things that amused this old moviegoing warhorse, too: This movie is way less creepy and raunchy than the ’80s teen sex farces it reminds of. There’s no nudity. No glamorization of drunken makeout sessions. Apart from the kissing, everything else is off screen. Marijuana figures big with no particular judgment made about it, and there’s a lot of drunk driving–none of it funny. There’s a big going to New York City scene, which ends in the rain on a graffiti-and-trash covered street.
There’s anti-semitism! And the parents and adults, always fodder for humor in the teen sex farce, are portrayed fairly sensitively (if not in any great detail). For example, Em’s stepmother hates her, but when Em pulls at her wig during a cocktail party, you feel bad for the stepmother, too.
It’s not, not, not the wacky Superbad. That movie, upon reflection, suffered from the fact that Jonah Hill doesn’t really have Seth Rogan’s charisma, which is kind of critical for understanding why the girl is interested in him. The whole cast here does a great job even when there’s little screen time. I particularly thought that the two actors who played the fathers (Josh Pais and Jack Gilpin) did a good job looking like men who had somehow lost control of their lives.
We liked it–The Boy included–but I think they’ve played the PR wrong. A lot of people are going to think the movie is boring and slow because they were promised a comedy. So, as with Duplicity, beware. Unlike Duplicity, however, Em and James are hugely sympathetic characters–just kids trying to figure out how to reconcile their feelings with the fear that comes from not knowing how the other feels.