It might sound a bit drippy of me, but my favourite moment of Adventureland is probably a small one. It’s a shot-from-behind moment, with Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart out of focus in the foreground, with fireworks blasting away in the background. I’m not quite sure why – although the fact that scenes like that are rarely shot quite the same way helped – but it stuck in my head. Actually, to be fair, so did the comedy highlight, as a stoned Martin Starr character polices a clearly fixed sideshow game. I’m still chuckling about that now.
Actually, to be fair, lots of Adventureland has stuck in my head. Martin Starr’s Joel is one of the best characters I saw in any movie last year, for instance, and embodies what’s so right about the film. For Adventureland is ostensibly about Jesse Eisenberg’s James, whose plans to go to Europe for the summer are shelved when his parents can’t afford to give him the money to go any more. Only it takes that simple premise, and moulds a warm, authentic-feeling drama, that’s not shy of a few laughs too.
The plot sees James ultimately having to get a summer job, at the Adventureland theme park of the film’s title. That’s where he meets Joel, who in most movies would be a throwaway, two-dimensional character. But you don’t find those in Adventureland. Be it Ryan Reynolds’ surprisingly unpleasant handyman Mike, or the aforementioned Starr’s Joel, characters have reasons for doing things here, and are fleshed out satisfyingly well.
To be fair, the acting ensemble is led excellently from the top, too. Jesse Eisenberg is an actor who “has a way of playing directors during their awkward phases” (to quote director Greg Mottola, who, in turn, is quoting Eisenberg himself), and here he delivers his best performance in his best role to date (although we’re interested to see how he gets on in David Fincher’s upcoming The Social Network). With Kristen Stewart also delivering a performance far in excess of what the Twilight franchise affords her too in the other lead role, you actually end up with a couple here that you can genuinely root for. Not that they have an easy path, as Adventureland is darker than it may first appear, and all the better for it.
That said, it doesn’t shy away from comedy, aided by having the likes of Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig in the cast. It’s just this isn’t the continued assault on your funny bone that you might expect from a film that’s sold as being from the director of Superbad. It’s actually a lot more than that (with no disrespect to Superbad intended there).
A few weeks ago, I ranked Adventureland as the most underappreciated film of 2009, and after watching it yet again, I’m still convinced it is. It’s not a perfect movie, and perhaps it wraps things up a little too comfortably given what’d gone before. But with a terrific soundtrack, and superb work from, arguably, the biggest star of the film here – writer/director Greg Mottola – it’s aching to be discovered on DVD. Strongly recommended.
The commentary with Jesse Eisenberg and writer/director Greg Mottola isn’t Scorsese-esque, we’re told in the early parts, but it’s really informative and interesting. It helps that Eisenberg continually probes Mottola and asks questions, and Mottola then answers them properly. It’s the little things like that which tend to matter. I really enjoyed this track, and it’s the strongest extra on the disc.
The ‘making of’, which runs to 16 minutes, it a little bit frustrating, as for every interesting anecdote (such as the sourcing of the theme park used in the film) there’s an actor saying not too much to the camera. It’s not bad as far as making-of documentaries go, but I’d have liked a bit more detail.
The deleted scenes you can play with a commentary if you want, but they’re so brief there’s not actually much reason to do so.