Movies Watched in 2013:
115.) Adventureland, 2009 dir. by Greg Mottola — 8/10
Greg Mottola’s Adventureland never found great success when it was released in 2009, and I think a lot of that has to do with marketing that focused heavily on comedy and rather lightly on character. That was an enormous mistake. Don’t get me wrong — Adventureland is breathtakingly hilarious from time to time, and Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Matt Bush, and a couple others bring big laughs every time they hit the screen. The movie, though, has bigger aspirations than making you laugh. This is one of the most realistic depictions of what happens to a lot of people right out of college, people with shitty jobs who want to escape, people with broken homes and shattered lives and very little to look forward to. Mottola treads into some very serious, very dark waters at times, and the result is a “comedy” that is refreshingly honest and treats its characters with respect.
Jesse Eisenberg is a personal favorite of mine, and I’ll take this part over any of the others he’s ever played. Yeah, I relate to him more easily than most, having just graduated college myself, but Eisenberg hits all the right notes and sells a character that honestly doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing. Kristen Stewart, who is remarkably talented when a director knows how to use her, gives one of her best turns here, as well, constant lip-biting and all. Her story is a sad one and her character makes questionable choices, but this is a movie about real people, not typical comedy archetypes. Ryan Reynolds is tasked with probably the most difficult role. His maintenance man/musician/professional liar never veers off into simple asshole territory, even though he does terrible things to good people. We don’t sympathize with him, necessarily, but Mottola seems hellbent to not let us outright despise any of his characters. Reynolds’ Connell has a challenging marriage and a difficult and strange relationship with his mother, and, as much as he lies and cheats and tries to bang everything he sees, there’s a good guy trapped underneath that needs someone to let him out. It’s not a typical “stoner comedy” character, that’s for sure, and another fault of the marketing was trying to push this as a like-minded follow up to Mottola’s previous Superbad.
It’s irresponsible to discuss Adventureland without bringing up Martin Starr. The guy should have been on everyone’s radar for a long time now, but he simply hasn’t been. Starr nearly walks away with this entire film, portraying a character that’s so lonely, so smart, and so hurt that it takes a while for us to catch on to what’s really going on with him beyond all the brilliantly funny lines he’s spouting off. Starr’s Joel is really the heart of the movie, when you stop and put the pieces together, and they couldn’t have filled the part better. Again, this isn’t the comedy that was advertised, and it’s easy to see how that could have turned people off. Adventureland is a great movie, though — one of my personal favorites, in fact — and hopefully someday down the road more people will look back and see the brutal, hilarious, joyous, heartbreaking, triumphant tale of real people living real lives in an amusement park in 1987 that Greg Mottola crafted here.