Review: Adventureland (2009)

This article was published on the original Sorry I’m on 14/07/09.


Adventureland opens in the summer of 1987, where recent college grad James Brennan (an excellent Jesse Eisenberg), unable to fund his planned European trip and a future tenure at the prestigious Columbia University on the horizon, must now endure a summer slogging it out in the titular theme park – home to an assortment of rejects, outcasts and stoners. There he meets the mysterious Em (an also excellent Kristen Stewart), of whom James falls for despite her involvement with the married park maintenance man Mike (Ryan Reynolds, sans the sass talk), a serial lothario with the annual influx of younger girls at the park.

Despite being Greg Mottola’s follow up to the side-splitting Superbad – and in spite of the misleading trailer – Adventureland is not the Apatow-esque comedy that you may have been expecting, but a surprisingly charming and tender dramatic character study. This one will definitely be a crowd divider, as we have seen many a coming-of-age story before, but not one with as much heart and devotion to the confusion and inner frustrations that we all get at this age. Although being genuinely funny – all without the need to resort to cheap jokes and potty humour – Adventureland does in fact have some very dark and understated thematic elements mixed in with all the comical moments that you would expect from working at a low-rent theme park.

Don’t get me wrong, though – the movie is funny. James and Em first meet when Em saves James from getting knifed by an irate park-goer during a dispute over a Giant Ass Panda, and shenanigans ensue when angry jock-douche customers uncover one of the Adventureland’s many dubiously rigged games. Then there’s Frigo, with an affinity for punching dicks, and a fair share of boner jokes to please the masses.

The story is pulled together by an amazing cast – Eisenberg is terrific in his role of the not-quite-nerdy-everykid James. Kristen Stewart has the incredible talent of expressing inner turmoil better than most young actresses, and I’m pretty sure she’s always stoned. She also has this messy, natural beauty going on, which I am digging. Ryan Reynolds, ditching the usual shtick, plays the rare role of straight man and is superb in it. Comic relief is provided by the always reliable SNL alum Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig and their time on screen – although minimal – is perfectly matched to oppose the film’s dramatic moments. Definitely going by John Landis’ Bluto rule here, less screen time leads to more comedic impact and the audience anticipating the next appearance.

In a world filled with nostalgia themed movies, kudos certainly need to be given to the soundtrack, boasting seldom heard 80’s classics (Modern Love by David Bowie a personal favourite) as well as some home grown acts such as INXS and Crowded House. Good stuff, Soundtrack Guy.

Due to the mis-marketing and subsequent low opening in the States, the always frustrating Australian release system fails me again, as it was showing on so few screens down here that it was nigh on impossible to catch a screening that fit my schedule (listen to me, Mister Social…). With that being said, I did manage to get my hands on a copy. By nefarious means? Perhaps, but I don’t agree with a system that denies me a chance to see something I want to see. And it shall be purchased on video when the eventual release comes, so here’s hoping for no ramapercussions from the Feds. And I have now just dismounted my soap box. The air was pleasant and crisp.

Adventureland is one of the better coming-of-age stories in recent memory; with writing as sharp as me in a pimped-out suit and some wonderfully honest performances. This is destined to be a nice discovery for everyone on home video, if not a cult classic in the making.

Award: Golden Llama

– A great script and snappy dialogue, delivered through sensational performances.
– Awesome soundtrack.
– A giant ass panda.
– Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, always rad.

– You may have been deceived by the trailer

– Dazed and Confused
– The Wackness
– American Graffiti
– Superbad

Directed by: Greg Mottola
Written by:
 Greg Mottola  
Produced by:
 Sidney Kimmel, Anne Carey, Ted Hope  
 Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds, Martin Starr, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig
Distributed by:
Run length:
 107 minutes
Australian Release:
 28 May 2009


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