Wednesday, April 29, 2009

FILM: Review: Adventureland

Behold the Burgh.
*Posted April 13, 2009*
What a shame that this film did so poorly at the Box Office. Despite being constantly billed as "THE MOVIE FROM THE GUY WHO DIRECTED SUPERBAD!!!!!!!" this quiet little summer film is much more nuanced and far better than Superbad (and I loved Superbad). Superbad was a loud, wild, hilarious take on the "one crazy night" movie plot (American Graffiti, Can't Hardly Wait, etc.). Adventureland is set over a summer, and focuses more on personal relationships and conflict and unhappiness (a lot of stuff that isn't so marketable to the crowd that loved Fast & Furious). I must admit that I am a little biased for two reasons. Firstly, I saw this movie on Easter Sunday in a theater that was COMPLETELY EMPTY. Even though that sounds sad and pathetic, I rather liked having my own private screening about my hometown area. It seemed to fit. And that is my second reason. This movie is set in 1987 in the good old Pittsburgh, PA. Adventureland is, in fact, the Kennywood Amusement Park, and if you've been there on class trips like I have, it's a wonderful blast of nostalgia recognizing all the little things ("Oh my God! I know that parking lot!"). But it's time to get on to the plot...

Adventureland is about a Michael Cera-like college kid (James) who needs money to live in New York while he attends grad school. Because of his parents money troubles, he has to work a shitty job at the amusement park. Unlike Superbad, which I never identified with, Adventureland nails the "shitty summer job" atmosphere. Most of the kids that our hero hangs out with are fellow college kids, home for the summer. They all have impressive majors like Comparative Literature and Russian history that make them sound smart, but offer no real utility when it comes to summer jobs (I can think of two website writers that respectively majored in Mathematics and Political Science/History that also found themselves working stinky jobs at places like fast food joints, deli counters, and grocery distributors). So for me personally, I totally understood the feeling of working with people like you (college kids who hate the job and use it as a stop gap) and people decidedly not like you (locals in it for the long haul). As it takes place over summer, we see how James develops his relationships with his co-workers: the cool/nerd friend (kid from Freaks and Geeks), the cool/troubled/hot girl who likes good music (Twilight girl), and the older guy who feels trapped in the small town (Ryan Reynolds).
There are plenty of laughs with Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as the owners of the parks, and overall the whole cast has fun joking with each other. But mostly, the film spends more time on the layered romance plots. You'll be happy to know that it's way more layered than most teen comedies (or rom coms) you'll see. With the exception of the ditzy dance girl, none of the characters are one-dimensional. The progession of the plot and the ending don't go overboard with drama. It feels much more real than the immature, overblown antics of classic high school party movies. I actually wish that it was longer. Ideally, I think this movie would've worked great as a TV show. I'm trying not to be too vague but I don't want to give anything away here. Bottom line: Kennywood-land is a cool, fun, real movie, so go see it.

Little Things I Loved
  • The Old PA license plates (like these)
  • Kennywood (Phantom, Thunderbolt, Paddle Boats, Paratrooper, Turnpike, the Arcade, etc.)
  • Some guy wearing a Lambert jersey (but why did it have the Steeler logo on the chest?)
  • The skyline of Pittsburgh
  • The Iron City Beer sign
  • Bill Hader's Mustache
  • The soundtrack was almost non-stop (like Am. Grafitti), but the songs always seemed to feel right, as opposed to distracting (WATCHMEN, anyone?)

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