Deeper Into Movies: “Adventureland” (2009)


Editor’s Note: I now have Netflix and a suddenly overwhelming need to document every movie I see.

On the one hand, director Greg Mottola’s follow-up to Superbad was another Dave Greenwald Wish Fulfillment Movie (cf. Nick and Norah) full of once-relatable Jewish ennui (Jesse Eisenberg plays a budding journalist and a virgin!), awkward LOLs, hedonistic booze/pot-fueled escapades and awesome Replacements jams, but on the other…

Adventureland also swerved bizarrely deep into hyper-dysfunctional Noah Baumbach territory (especially notable since Jesse was in that director’s The Squid and the Whale) without any attempt at reconciling that with, say, the presence of two Saturday Night Live cast members. (Aside: Dear Hollywood: Can you give Kristen Wiig all of Jennifer Aniston’s roles from now on, or at least the decent ones? Please? It’s time.)

Adding to the cognitive dissonance was love interest Kristen Stewart, still in full-on broody, and yes, sexy, Twilight mode, down to the constant trembling and running her hands through her hair during tense moments. Emma Stone, she ain’t. At what point do Jesse’s character’s feelings for her become, or even deserve to become, anything more than puppy love and thus justify the movie’s conclusion? He’s a naive intellectual; she’s a frustrated daughter lashing out; neither lends itself to a sparks-flying (or, for that matter, Nicholas Sparks) love story. I would’ve felt better about the conclusion had his character been a college freshman and not a more experienced guy heading for grad school; and as a film set in the ’80s, it could’ve learned a few things from Say Anything. But then, Adventureland has crueler intentions: alcoholism, failed parenthood, extramarital affairs. Stewart’s casting was likely an attempt to split the difference between a more endearing Stone/Kat Dennings-type and someone with the inner turmoil to make her character’s secret life believable, landing too far to the latter side. (Emma herself was excellent alongside Jesse in Zombieland, so, there’s that.)

Issues aside, though, Adventureland‘s dark moments did have a ring of painful truth to them — and the comedy works well on its own, if not always in context. Honestly, most of the above concerns occurred after the fact; the movie hits too deep in my personal wheelhouse not to have enjoyed pretty thoroughly, flaws and all. Like Up in the Air, it’s a film that tries to have it both ways — when it works, it’s a winner.

The Replacements – “Unsatisfied”:

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