The age of experience
A GLANCE AT the synopsis of Adventureland might suggest that Greg Mottola, director of Superbad, has attempted a period remake of that earlier, hugely successful youth comedy.
His new film follows a socially insecure college graduate who, due to financial setbacks at home, is forced to abandon plans to tour Europe and instead takes a summer job in a dilapidated Pittsburgh theme park. There, he meets an impossibly cool girl, a suave older guy and an unhappy eccentric with awful hair. There’s even some comedy vomiting.
This thoughtful, touching picture is, however, much closer in tone to Mottola’s loose-limbed debut, The Daytrippers. Slightly shambolic, deliberately underplayed, it occasionally comes across like a collaboration between John Hughes and John Cassavetes. (We mean that in a good way.)
Essaying an older, much nicer version of the know-it-all he played in The Squid and the Whale, Jesse Eisenberg turns up as the infuriatingly uncertain James. After failing to secure even the most menial waiting job, James is snapped up by the endearingly earnest proprietors (the terrific Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig) of the titular carnival. This is 1987 and, with no internet to distract them, the local kids still enjoy throwing hoops over milk bottles and riding on hideously dangerous Chair-O-Planes.
James soon becomes obsessed with Em, a decent, if slightly mopey girl, played with impressive fragility by Kristen Stewart. Unaware that she is having an affair with an older, married lothario (Ryan Reynolds), James starts dreaming of dragging the troubled Big Star fan to New York.
Beautifully acted, featuring some nimble handheld camerawork, Adventureland has the quality – the recent death of author Keith Waterhouse prompts such thoughts – of a looser, less stubbornly miserable Billy Liar. It is also notable for shunning lazy caricatures of the 1980s as an age of pink legwarmers, and imagining a twilit era in which every radio played The Velvet Underground or Hüsker Dü.
This idealisation is, of course, even more unreal than Legwarmerville, but it makes Adventureland a very charming spot in which to spend an hour or so.
Staycation: Jesse Eisenberg and Martin Starr in Adventureland