Movie News & Reviews

'Adventureland' offers rewarding sense of reality

Surprise! A clown just kidnapped your girlfriend.

That's why nobody likes surprises. We spend all day thinking aboutcool things happening, so the only things that can surprise us are thebad things. Falling down a well, tripping into a cannon and then beingshot out of that cannon into the mouth of a snake, dropping yourpizza--you can't prepare for tragedies like that. All you can hope todo is come out of them without too much humiliation or mangling.

If life is a nonstop series of terrifying disappointments, that's whywe need movies to remind us that hey, at least we're not beingenslaved as batteries by squid-shaped robots. And sometimes, a moviepulls the ultimate surprise by being really, really good. I don't knowwhere Adventureland was being advertised, but I know where itwasn't: the all-day sports network where I watch curling.

College grad Jesse Eisenberg has his summer all slotted out: head toEurope for some cultural exposure and moral degeneracy. But when hisdad's demoted, the money dries up and so do Eisenberg's plans.

Stuck at home, expensive grad school looming, he takes a job at alocal amusement park. The similarly overeducated Martin Starr, acoworker, makes Eisenberg's days bearable; Kristen Stewart makes themexciting.

Eisenberg and Stewart soon fall into a thing, a relationship that'scomplicated by the fact she's sleeping with married maintenance manRyan Reynolds. The closer Eisenberg gets, the further she pulls away.

When Greg Mottola directed Superbad, he looked like a competentbut unspectacular viceroy in the thriving Apatow Empire. Big deal:when someone hands you the keys to a space rocket, no one's surprisedwhen you make it go fast. As the writer and director ofAdventureland, Mottola's immediately become a true star, thekind of director you go see no matter how stupid or filled with AdamSandler the trailer for his next movie may be.

It doesn't have the world's most original plot (wait, boy meets girl,boy loses girl? Slow down), but it's the details that prove theoldest stories can still be made fresh. Unfolding his film with thesame leisurely, unstructured pace as a summer break, Mottola dodgescliches like the Neo of young love stories.

When his characters make big heartfelt speeches, there's no "Youcomplete me." Instead, they're blundery and hurt, talking around theirfeelings because they don't know how to say them head-on. Trust me,this is how it works in real life. You think you're making the mostglorious declaration since Thomas Jefferson broke up with England, butwhat really comes out is "I'm a big moron and you're right to beleaving me right now." This is why instead of talking, you shouldalways try hitting.

Carefully underwritten to resemble real lie, their emotions showthrough despite their worst efforts. The same vibe comes off in theirhang-out humor and a billion little character moments that add jackzero to the plot but would be sorely missed if cut. They'd drag likedeath if they weren't so funny and right.

All of which would be impossible without Adventureland'sawesome cast. Eisenberg gets brainy and upstanding without fallinginto the "he's cute because he's awkward" thing everyone else whoplays a geek trots out. As for Starr, he should be in every movie, andwe should all paste pictures of him over our beds so he can watch uswhile we sleep. Bosses Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig liven up everyscene they're in.

Mottola's evasive, disjointed style is going to throw a few peopleoff; I can see it striking some as pointless, overlong. But it's notoften a big commercial comedy feels like it was filmed right out ofeveryday life. Adventureland nails it, start to finish.

Grade: A-