Follically challenged Superbad director Greg Mottola writes and directs his first feature since 1996’s subtle and funny Manhattan road movie The Daytrippers with sweet and funny results.
It is the summer of 1987 and English lit graduate James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) is looking forward to touring Europe for the summer when his parents tell him there’s no money in the pot for the vacation. James is forced to find a summer job and ends up as a coconut-shy boy at the decrepit local amusement park Adventureland in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Full of the insane and unemployable, Adventureland turns out to be quite a ride for the sheltered James.
Eschewing toilet humour and sexual crudities for something more organic, deeper and character driven, the clearly biographical Adventureland is a film out of its time, literally and culturally. With its late-80s setting (which means no mobile phones and no computers, kids) and killer period soundtrack (Hüsker Dü, Lou Reed, Bowie, The Replacements), it plays like an unwitting eulogy to the recent passing of American youth cinema pioneer John Hughes (The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off).
On the one hand, it is a fish-out-of-water comedy as Eisenberg’s callow, nebbish, over-educated youth comes into contact with the great unwashed. On the other, it is a coming-of-age tale, albeit one that mixes romance, lust and misplaced loyalties in the same cup. In other words, Adventureland draws on a long line of frat-house farces and ‘the meek shall inherit the earth’ comedies.
Mottola clearly knows that when working with an ensemble cast in a hothouse setting, honesty and performance are everything. In this, he is well served by Bill Hader as Bobby the insane owner of the park, Kristen Wig as Bobby’s weird wife and Martin Starr as the local deep-voiced nerd. You also couldn’t ask for more from an object of almost folkloric young lust than Margarita Levieva as Lisa P. This gifted young actor (soon to be seen in David Mackenzie’s Spread) pushes the boundaries of pneumatic thrill and bimbo callousness to a new level. That Kirsten Stewart and Ryan Reynolds as the real love interest and pretty boy love rival seem to be in a different much more boring rom-com is annoying, but the squares will always ruin the party.
General release from Fri 11 Sep.