Land of the Lost
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart
By Colleen Dillon
Something about the approach of summertime evokes a sense of youth, of bittersweet memories, and of close but fleeting friendships. Take this nostalgia up one more level by giving these feelings a late 1980s backdrop, and you have the movie Adventureland. Originally advertised as a comedy, the film is closer to a modern coming-of-age story, more tender and genuine than something like Can’t Hardly Wait, but not as sappy as genre classics like Stand By Me. The story opens with James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) returning home from college to find that his parents no longer have the income necessary to pay James’s way through graduate school, let alone assist him in going on a summer vacation to Europe. Despite having a college degree, the only job James can find is at a sketchy local amusement park called Adventureland, which James takes in a desperate effort to raise money for tuition at Columbia..
While working at Adventureland, James meets a believable cast of summer job misfits, including Em (Kristen Stewart), on whom James soon develops a crush. The majority of the movie involves the escapades of James and his new friends as they scrape by at their demoralizing job or drink away their boredom at bars. James is the epitome of a nice guy, whose two defining characteristics are his perpetual virginity and his ever-available supply of weed. The weed supply sets James up for the attentions of some amusement park girls and also paves the way for some of the film’s funnier scenes (including one where James ravenously scarfs down food during a sit-down meal with his parents).
The second best thing about this movie is how realistic it is. James is a good kid who has a crush on a girl who’s sleeping with an older married man (Ryan Reynolds), who claims to have opened for Lou Reed but can’t seem to get the musician’s song names right. Joel is a nerdy, depressive philosopher who makes out with a drunk girl but later gets the cold shoulder because he’s Jewish and she’s Catholic. Lisa P. is the seductive tease who “unknowingly” gives the boys a show with her amusement park dance routine, but is an unwavering virgin until marriage. All of these characters are admittedly exaggerated, but steer farther from the usual stereotypes in teen-oriented movies. There is a multi-dimensional aspect to so many of the characters in the film, that the viewer can’t help but feel that they are real people – perhaps people encountered on a summer job years ago. There is also believability in the film’s scenarios. A drunk girl yelling “I love you” at a bar, yuppie kids and small town jocks treating the Adventureland workers like trash, the cool, popular park mechanic taking girls to his mom’s basement to cheat on his wife – there is an honesty in all these things that makes Adventureland seem more like memories from a yearbook than unfamiliar images on a film reel (or disk).
The best thing about the movie (I knew you were waiting for this) is the soundtrack. Including everything from the Velvet Underground to INXS to Whitesnake, it is simply the best compilation of 80s music I have ever heard. The film manages to exclude more obvious singles like “You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)” or anything from Flock of Seagulls. Instead, even the song choices of Advetureland tend to be realistic; these are very likely the exact songs a recent college graduate would have listened to in 1987. The sincere and believable air of the film is probably a direct result of the fact that director Greg Mottola based the movie on his own experiences working at an amusement park. The quality of acting also has a huge bearing on why this film is so easy to watch. I can basically sum it up by saying that Ryan Reynolds is actually good in this movie. Mottola has provided him with a character he can play well and he should only be cast in duplicate roles in the future. Actually, all the casting choices for the film are stunningly appropriate (and this was before Kristen Stewart made Twilight) and allowed the characters to really come to life, instead of just looking like actors playing roles.
Like last week’s I Love You, Man, Adventureland isn’t really the laugh-so-hard-you’re-gasping-for-air comedy the initial trailer made it out to be, but it’s still entertaining and memorable. This is probably a better date movie than something to go see with all your bros (although your bros would like it too), but it’s definitely worth seeing and will provide you with quite possibly the best introduction to summer you’re going to get at the theater.