The '80s, but far more real ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Friday, December 11, 2009

The '80s, but far more real

My rating:

I said in my Twilight review that I've yet to see Kristen Stewart in anything (that doesn't involve sparkly vampires). I figured there's no better movie with which to rectify that than this one, one of the best-reviewed of the year - check out what James Berardinelli and AV Club had to say. This film has actually been on my radar since it was first released in the States in April, but it never made it to our shores. I've never even seen "Coming Soon" posters in cinema lobbies, like I have for The Hangover and Coraline; looks like our local distributors didn't even try to bring it in.

So go look for it through your "alternative" sources. It's worth it.

James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) was all set to tour Europe for the summer before starting graduate school, until his parents drop the bombshell that they won't be able to finance his trip due to money problems. He's forced to get a shitty job at Adventureland, and becomes part of the microcosmic world of the second-rate amusement park. He works for managers Bobby (Bill Hader) and Paulette (Kristen Wiig), befriends fellow overeducated nerd Joel (Martin Starr), does his best to avoid annoying childhood friend Frigo (Matt Bush), admires rock star maintenance man Connell (Ryan Reynolds), lusts after sexpot co-worker Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva) - and falls in love with the sweet and sensitive Em (Kristen Stewart). But Em has problems of her own, and in fact is secretly having an affair with the married Connell.

The remarkable thing about this film is how deftly it avoids stereotypes and contrived comedy to tell a story that subverts all your expectations. So much about its premise - geeky hero, geekier sidekick, sensitive romantic interest, jock romantic rival, airheaded hot chick - calls to mind dozens of lame teen and college-age comedies that Hollywood has been making since the '80s (and hasn't stopped yet.) In fact, the film's 1987 setting only heightens that impression. But what writer-director Greg Mottola (Superbad) has done is to deepen each of the abovementioned characters and make them real, three-dimensional, relatable people. The geeky hero is well-liked and reasonably self-assured around women. The romantic rival is not a grade-A asshole, and is even somewhat sympathetic. Even the airheaded hot chick has an unexpected depth to her.

And the sensitive romantic interest could very well come off as a sneaky bitch, once we see that she's sleeping with another guy. But Mottola paints her character so well that we understand her self-destructive impulses fully, without ever having to spell it out. He has more than able support from Stewart, who is terrific in this. Her ability to play emotionally troubled young women was probably what scored her the Bella Swan role, but it's in films like this that her talent truly shines. And don't think Em is a Bella - oh hell no. She's a far, far more richly-realized character; she's likable, she has a spine, she has her own inner strength, and the fact that she can also be vulnerable and foolish only makes her more real.

She's also pretty hot, in a way Bella never was, which is why I'm gushing about her and therefore I should stop and talk about some of the other characters. As played by Jesse "the other Michael Cera" Eisenberg, James does at first come across as a typically pathetic geek - but he's not. He's sweet and charming enough to score a date with the hottest girl working at Adventureland - which may have something to with the stash of weed his friend left him and which he's very generous with, but he's also bold enough to pursue Em, the girl he really likes. (And yes, this does complicate the plot beyond nice-guy-is-cheated-on-by-girl.) Eisenberg is great at keeping our sympathies with him, but his performance could very well fool people into thinking this is exactly the kind of movie it's subverting. I wonder if another actor would've done better.

Connell is also a superbly well-drawn character; we understand why he does the things he does, but it neither excuses him nor condemns him. He's ultimately just a big fish in a very small pond - and he knows it. But lest you think there are only three characters in the entire film, there's also Joel, whose cynicism doesn't protect him from being emotionally vulnerable. There's also Bobby and Paulette, who are pretty good bosses even though they run a crummy theme park. And there's Lisa P., who may be the closest thing to a truly dislikable character, but even this is handled with restraint. (And most guys would probably still like her.) Mottola does an incredible job with all these characters, their dialogue and their actors' performances; they do what the story demands of them without ever having giant "LIKE" and "HATE" signs above their heads.

The only reason why Adventureland isn't getting a higher rating is that it's not very funny. There are funny scenes with funny characters, but it's all pretty low-key and deadpan; plenty of chuckles, but no LOLs or ROFLs. But also plenty of heart and warmth and genuineness. (Also lots of pot smoking, so maybe the distributors were merely prudent not to try bringing this film in after all.) And it features some great lesser-known '80s music; the songs punctuate the emotions of many scenes beautifully. This is the cinematic equivalent of a really good salad - you may not enjoy it because you want a burger and fries. But give it a chance and you might find it's actually quite yummy, and also pretty damn good for you.

2 comments: said...

Hey there,

If you are free, Thursday, 17th December, I would like to personally invite you to come check this out:

Arivind Abraham

Farahanani Amhazali said...

watched it several times on HBO..

glad could see the other side of 'Bella'..

i bet she loved being in dark secrets and desired by guys..

that's the resemblance I could see between Bella and Em..