Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Adventureland (Greg Mottola, 2009)

A thoughtful and surprisingly heartfelt film about a young man's summer working at a rundown amusement park, Adventureland brilliantly captures the youthful spirit of 1987. Of course, I didn't even release that year had any sort of spirit. Nevertheless, as far as years go, it's pretty underrated, if you ask me. Personally, I view it as a year of firsts. For example, it was the year I started listening to industrial and house music (a not-so weird combination if you think about it); I got my first deviant haircut in 1987 ("Excuse me, kindly Supercuts lady. Yeah, could you please shave off everything except the top."); purchased my first pair of pointy shoes; and began tuning in to Brave New Waves on CBC Radio Two on a regular basis. However, since this film isn't about me and my charms, none of the swell things I just mentioned transpire within its modest running time. No, the people who populate this film have aspirations, dreams, goals, and interests that go beyond obscenely buckled footwear and a wicked four-to-the-floor beat. Well, there was one character who was able to properly express what I consider the flavour of '87 in a semi-succinct manner... (more on her in a minute).

A sick and partially twisted tale involving a couple of morose Hüsker Dü fans being forced to listen to Falco for an entire summer, the Greg Mottola (The Daytrippers) directed lark is about finding happiness in a joyless environment (a dilapidated amusement park called Adventureland). Every square inch may be covered in a freshly spewed layer of vomit, and the chances of being punched in the testicles at any given moment are quite high, but the time James Brennan (Simon Amstell look-a-like Jesse Eisenberg), a recent college graduate with thoughts of Europa and Columbia University dancing in his head, spends in this depressing place are probably gonna be the most memorable of his life.

Forced to seek employment after his parents (Wendie Malick from Mr. Mike's Mondo Video and Jack Gilpin - who had the privilege to stand next to Su Tissue in Something Wild) run into a patch of financial trouble and can't afford to pay for a planned summer trip overseas, James begrudgingly dons a t-shirt with the word "games" written on it ad nauseam and begins to work at Adventureland in the, you guessed it, games division (the other division is devoted to rides). As you'd expect, the well-educated, Dickens admiring, Replacements fan (yeah, I know, he has really lame taste in music) isn't looking forward to wallowing in this glorified cesspool.

On the bright side, he does get to hang out and share his large stash of marijuana with fellow game workers: Em (Kristen Stewart), a sarcastic gal with a wig wearing step-mom, and Joel (Martin Starr), a lanky Gogol lover who shows him the ropes (I had no idea all those games are fixed). In other words, a situation that was rife with complications of a soul crushing nature, turns out to be kinda cool, especially since James and Em like the same music and both enjoy acting sullen and disaffected in public. The two end up bonding over past flames, weed, and Lou Reed; it's quite romantic.

Complicating matters, however, is Em's super secret relationship with a carny repairman/musician named Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds), who is also married. This bit of dating angst is the central thrust of the story and is handled more or less in a mature, non-juvenile manner. Sure, an erection joke is thrown in there every now and then to keep things balanced, but I thought the film's relationship angle to be rather touching. Lending a hand when things get too introspective and junk are the always dependable Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, who show up every now and then as the de facto rulers of Adventureland and interject the proceedings with a much needed slice of levity.

Now, I'm not 100% sure if the character of Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva) was supposed to be a subtle jab at the perceived vacuousness of the 1980s. I mean, the fact that they show her dancing enthusiastically to music that had a distinctly un-Velvet Underground timber to it has lead me to believe that their aim was to mock '80s dance pop. But whatever their original intent might have been, I still managed to worship Lisa P. and everything she represents. Which is nothing. As much as they tried to besmirch her, and her inane lifestyle, my overwhelming love for this ridiculous creature grew inexplicably stronger as the film progressed. Making, what doesn't have to be, one of the greatest entrances in recent film history, the finely bottomed Lisa P. saunters through the park like a cock alerting angel smeared in a thick coat of magenta and cyan. Whether profoundly philosophizing about the differences between sail boats and speed boats or inducing others to obsess over the crack of daylight that appears between her thighs and buttocks, Lisa P. manages to put life in perspective in a highly succinct manner.

Dancing in acid-wash jeans, and the derisive tittering towards her by certain audience members that followed notwithstanding, the shots of Lisa P. getting down to some the grooviest jams the era were most definitely my favourite scenes in Adventureland. The sequences that take place at Razzmatazz, a local discotheque, in particular; as she lets fly to killer tracks by Exposé, Mary Jane Girls, and Animotion. Actually, Lisa P. and James smoking a joint together in what looked like a graveyard for broken bumper cars was a pretty solid scene as well. And it didn't involve dancing. Just gorgeous cinematography and a stimulating theological discussion.

I know I've made a couple of unflattering comments towards the non-electro bands in this film, but I want to make it clear that I enjoyed all the music used in Adventureland. A strange cornucopia of '80s era (and some 60s and 70s) material, the soundtrack (which includes a music score by Yo La Tengo) is one of the most eclectic I've heard in years. Featuring everything from Wang Chung to Judas Priest, to Crowded House and the New York Dolls, the music is a dizzying clash of almost every style that was popular at the time. The key word being "popular." (There's no industrial or house music to be heard in this movie.)

Favourite songs from the soundtrack (in order of preference): "Point Of No Return" by Exposé, Shannon - "Let The Music Play" (Get down, Lisa P.), Obsession by Animotion, the Mary Jane Girls' "In My House," an early INXS song called "Don't Change," "Pale Blue Eyes" by The Velvet Underground (which is played twice), Crowded House - "Don't Dream It's Over," and "Taste of Cindy (Acoustic Version) by the Jesus & Mary Chain.



  1. I really enjoyed your post. I've been wanting to see this movie. I've heard so many good things about it. Your post definitely makes me wanna see it that much more.

  2. Thanks, Keith.

    Alex Trebek pronounced Casey Siemaszko's name correctly on Jeopardy! the other day.

  3. Tell me you're on! And if you're not please start today...I have a feeling you'll be my favorite DJ evarrrrrr!

    Oh and great review as usual.

  4. Great review! I finally saw Adventureland last week, and you probably won't be surprised to know that I loved it, too. The direction and look reminded me a little of Freaks & Geeks. I, too, adored Lisa P. Though I probably enjoyed Falco a little more than you did.

  5. Oh...I see you saw the Three O'Clock High clue on Jeopardy. I was yelling at the television! Of course, no one got it. :(

    Tippen Ein? Holy crap.

    d. really wants to see this movie you've reviewed. We'll see.

  6. Mr. Canacorn: I'm not on Blip. Evarrrrrr? Hmmm, maybe I'll start one. You know, as long as it doesn't take too much effort.

    Anyway, thanks for noticing the music. :)

    muruch: Yeah, there's definitely a Freaks & Geeks vibe to the overall proceedings. Plus, I could totally see Lindsay Weir working a summer or two at Adventureland. Oh, and I'm pleasantly surprised to hear about your Lisa P. adoration. She, for the lack of a better term, rocked in this movie.

  7. Karim Amir: I didn't yell at the television, but I did glare angrily. (I lack gravy). The fact that no one got it just goes to show how criminally underrated it actually is.

    Holy crap, indeed. :D

    "We'll see." This made me giggle internally for some reason.

    If anything, you'll probably like the way the Crowded House song is used in this movie, and the fact that it's nothing like Superbad.

    I finally saw the Anna Faris article in EW. Pretty cool.

    Not-so cool, however, was their list of the top 25 funny actresses. A list that only seemed to include actresses who either work for NBC or have sucked Judd Apatow's dick. I mean, for starters, where was freaking Lauren Graham and Judy Greer? Outrageous.

  8. I loved this film too and it had my friend Mary Birdsong in it (as Kristen Stewart's yenta stepmom) but as someone who's lived in NYC since college I have to complain about the film's condoning the Loser move of Eisenberg at the end, which SPOILER ALERT - involves him just showing up in the rain like a lost puppy outside KS's little Manhattan apartment. I was cockblocked by Loser moves like this several times as a rock and roll NYC party guy and would be lover: "Oh sorry, my penniless townie ex-boyfriend's decided to move in and mooch off me, so I guess I can't see you for awhile." You know some optimistic hipster kid had his spot blown up by Jesse's dick move. Kids, never do that to a hot girlfriend, "tag along" into some new atmosphere, all you'll do is hold her back from sleeping her way up the ladders of life, and cause yourself no end of sullen jealousy as you brood at home over Oprah and cheap bourbon and the want-ads, while she comes and goes to bigger, better things, gearing up the energy to kick you out on your ass! Ammmmmmmmen.

  9. I loved this film... every time I see it, it provokes a nostalgic spark into my system. You sure have great taste in your films, and I love reading your thoughts.

  10. This is a special movie, and one of my favorites of the 00s.

    Mostly because it is, as you say, heartfelt -- not so much in a corny rom-com kind of way, but in the way that Mottola pours so much sympathy onto his characters. James and Em are the centre of it of course. But by the end we're also encouraged to see Joel, Mike, Lisa P, and Hader/Wiig -- who might be served up solely to be villainized or mocked in lesser movies -- for what they probably really are, which are decent and flawed people simply trying to get through the day. There's a John Hughes vibe.

    As a fresh humanities grad, unpromisingly seeking gainful employment, I am also secretly terrified of James's predicament. The scenes at the beginning when, with his BA, he's failing to procure even the most meagre employment... let me tell you, this rings terrifyingly true.

    And yeah... what a soundtrack. I like Reed and Bowie just fine, but for me, I definitely wanna hear Crowded House, Black Swan Lane, Judas Priest, Jesus & Mary Chain, etc., whenever the opportunity arises. They even got the best song from the Rolling Stones's terminal decline period.