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adventureland

Every decade seems to have at least one great soundtrack driven, nostalgic, teenage experience movie.  One of those ‘My life would never be the same’ tales in which our protagonist discovers important life lessons and grows up a bit.  Many teen oriented films made about a decade while the decade in question is still at hand lack reflection and perspective.  They can seem too reactionary in nature and get all the details wrong or overblown.  Though there are exceptions, waiting 10-20 years to make a movie about the youth of certain decade will usually yield the best results.  “American Graffiti”, the movie that invented this genre, was a film about the end of 50’s sensibilities and was made in the mid 70’s.  “Dazed and Confused”, a film about post Vietnam 70’s suburban life, was made in the 90’s.  Now the world has “Adventureland”, a mid-80’s set story about a just out of college kid who, because of his parents financial setbacks, is forced to take a demeaning job at a second rate amusement park.  “Adventureland” doesn’t break any rules, playing by the handbook written for these movies, but it does so exceedingly well by having a talented cast, a believable style, being subtle in its reflections and having a memorable selection of music from the time.

Directed by the salvaged Greg Mottola (Superbad), “Adventureland” doesn’t smother you with oppressive stylization of forced nostalgia.  While it’s very much a soundtrack driven movie, Replacements, Lou Reed, INXS, Mottola takes a laid back approach to the details of the day.  These people look and feel as if they belong in the time and the place without it feeling forced or phony.  The recently viewed 80’s piece “Pretty in Pink” was a film that got this all wrong.  It tacked hyper stylized representations of the era’s fashion sense on everyone, in effect creating a movie where it felt like all involved were wearing tacky Halloween costumes.  Mottola’s film is also more restrained than typical teenage movies.  While by no means chaste, characters drink , smoke a lot of pot and hurl quite a bit, there is no pandering sense of gross out one-ups-manship or pointless nudity to appeal to the lesser sensibilities in the crowd who need their baser elements stroked for entertainment.

Lead Jesse Eisenberg is perfectly cast as James, the kid whose plans for life after college have all come crashing down.  He’s spot on for the part of an over-educated, under employed guy who’s too sensitive, unaware and inexperienced for his own good.  He’s following in the footsteps of the less is more Michael Cera school of acting.  He should be made aware of this post haste so as to realize that while it can be endearing, it grows thin with time.  “Twilight” headliner Kristen Stewart gets freed from vampire bondage to play Em, the damaged goods girl James falls for.  Her story and motivations are well drawn out.  Very often the female parts in films like this can be superficial or poorly realized, but her story is actually more compelling than James’.  While his story is rooted in beginning to understand people so he can mature as a person, she’s already experienced the harsh realities of life, damaging her in ways he can’t fathom and that she doesn’t want to reveal.  The two make a believable pair and have good chemistry together.  The rest of the cast is a solid assembly of oddball friend types and peculiar personalities.  Strong notices go to SNL stars Bill Hader and Kristin Wiig as the unflappable managers who diligently run their dilapidated amusement park.

Though “Adventureland” was ignored in theaters, it probably has a future just as “Dazed and Confused” did.  “Dazed” eventually found its audience as its cast went on to bigger and better things, ridding on the coattails of their success.  Considering Stewart’s success with “Twilight”, and that “Eisenberg” has a big hit with “Zombieland”, a similar fate will hopefully unfold for it.  It’s an endearing movie, a type of which is rare in this day and age.  When people finally come around to it, they’ll likely enjoy it immensely.

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