I love amusement parks! I love almost all amusement parks! From Disney Sea in Japan (probably the greatest amusement park in the world) to the tiny, beach front amusement park of my youth, San Francisco’s now defunct Playland. But one thing I can tell you is that I would never in million years EVER want to work in one. Having to deal with the general public as a standup comic can be hard enough but having to brave the onslaught of every dickhead who feels they have a perfect right to vent their sadism on any kid trying pay for his pot by running the bumper cars is to me, unimaginable. Luckily, the producers of the film “Adventureland” have imagined it for us.
Frankly, “Adventureland” wasn’t what I expected. After seeing director Greg Motolla’s “Superbad”, I thought I was going to be seeing a far sillier film. Although “Superbad” does have heart, it takes place in an alternative universe filled with goofy cops and nerds who mysteriously hook up with ridiculously hot chicks. It’s a fantasy but still, a fantasy I enjoyed.
“Adventureland” is something else. Although the movie does have its share of colorful characters and situations, it definitely stays much closer to reality. Like the films “American Graffitti” and “Fast Times At Ridegmont High”, it’s a coming of age story that shows how the cold slap of wisdom can come from the most unlikely of circumstances.
The story takes place in 1987 Pittsburgh. James Brennan, a cerebral yet socially awkward high school grad finds he must get a summer job to pay for college after his parents are hit by a financial setback. The only job he can find is running a horserace concession at the Adventureland amusement park that is basically one slight step up from a traveling carnival. There he must negotiate his way through a steady stream of thugs, child puke, workplaces dramas, recreational drug use, malfunctioning rides, low pay, and the occasional semi-poisonous corndog. Mmmm… corndogs.
The bright spot in all this is Em Lewin, played by Kristen Stewart. Em and James come together over their mutual love for really great music and each other’s offbeat view of the world. But things can never be simple in life and James is soon unknowingly caught up in a love triangle that includes the cool ride maintenance guy, Mike Connell (played by Ryan Reynolds). So, that’s the gist of it.
The story is pretty simple but really doesn’t need to be anything more. Sure the movie is funny, but writer/director Motolla doesn’t feel the need to bombard you with gags. The film takes its time but never drags and there’s an overall tone of honest tenderness that I found really refreshing. In the end, it’s a very sweet and satisfying love story. Wow, I’ve really grown since the days when my favorite film was “Frankenhooker”!
The cast is definitely top notch all around, although I did have a few favorites. By far, my biggest laughs came from Bill Hader as Tommy, the owner and manager of Adventureland. Tommy’s character has a hint of Dwight Shrute from “The Office” only less broad and far more likeable. He’s an unflappable administrator but when push comes to shove, has no problem unleashing a hilariously violent insane streak. I also related to Matt Bush as the dreaded, Tommy Frigo. Tommy is that really fucking annoying friend you had, that somehow hung on from childhood but whose ass you don’t kick out of some sense of misplaced loyalty. Although, after what he repeatedly does to James throughout the film, I think I would have misplaced some loyalty in his face. As you can see, I’m not really good at talking smack.
Jesse Eisenberg does a really nice job of playing the affable intellectual with a diehard romantic streak. He reminds me a bit of Michael Cera but with a little more gravitas. Martin Starr is also great as James’ wannabe writer friend, Joel, the park’s resident brooding misfit. But hands down, it’s Kristen Stewart who you really fall in love with. She carries herself with a sultry sense of sophistication and has a kind of real world, natural beauty that is casual and yet strangely exotic. The park hottie, Lisa P (played by Margarita Levieva) pales in comparison. How could you not be smitten by a smart, cynical, sleepy-eyed beauty who listens to Husker Du?.
Speaking of which, the soundtrack of this film is like a love letter to my ears. Lots of terrific music by Lou Reed, The Replacements, Husker Du (of course), The New York Dolls, David Bowie, The Cure, Nick Lowe, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Big Star, Yo La Tengo, and an extremely funny rendition of Rush’s, Limelight. The only bad part about the soundtrack is that it made me so very sad for the truly shit age of music we’re trudging through right now. Before any of you write letters, yes, I know there’s still some good alternative music being made but what I’m trying to say is even the shit music of the 80’s is better than what we have to stomach today. Personally, I’ll take Adventureland Park’s endless loop of Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” over the testicle deficient virgin-rock of the Jonas Brothers any day of the week.
Okay, that’s it! I saw “Adventureland”, I really enjoyed it, and I think you will too. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to start writing my screenplay about Ultramanland, the Ultraman themepark I went to in Japan. It’s a coming of age story where an angst-ridden boy learns he can only truly be happy when fighting another man dressed in a rubber monster suit. I guess art does imitate life.