How do I start this review? Well… I enjoyed the film a whole lot but I am just trying to figure out how it got made because it is like some kind of prestige indie film.
I’ve discussed my thoughts on indie films before (“indie films” are independently made films that share enough conventions that they have become a genre yada yada yada) and Adventureland pretty much hits all the notes to qualify;
Slice of life story? Check.
Low budget? Check.
Hipster offbeat soundtrack? Check.
And yet it doesn’t look like one and the cast is light years beyond your typical indie: you’d think it was a major Hollywood motion picture.
And yet, at the time of production, Greg Mottola only had two features under his belt, one of which was the wildly successful Superbad. Plus he wrote and directed this film with a budget under $10 million.
Let’s look at the cast for a second: you’ve got the star, Jesse Eisenberg, who wouldn’t have his big break until Zombieland, a year later, Kirsten Stewart, who would have been a major name due to her role in Twilight, Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, who were both SNL alumni’s and of course, Ryan Reynolds, who is a big enough star I don’t need to even mention any of his projects.
I’m guessing Greg Mottola earned his stripes with Superbad and decided to work on his own, lower budget project rather than another Judd Apatow movie or some such. And I’m guessing Superbad’s success is what brought in everyone else. I don’t know. It just seems weird to have what is ostensibly an indie film with such a high profile cast and Hollywood sheen.
Anyway, Jesse Eisenberg plays James Brennan, who is fresh out of high school and has Big Plans. These go awry when his parents reveal they are broke and James has to get a summer job. He goes to work at the titular, Adventureland, a truly dismal looking amusement park.
Here in the UK, we have our share of dismal amusement parks and I imagine America, being so very much larger, has more than its fair share (ha ha) and this kind of thing is probably more culturally relevant there. Still, Adventureland is exactly the sort of soulless, unamusement park you have probably visited yourself.
James goes to work there and, as in The Way Way Back, we are introduced to a whole host of offbeat characters. The most notable being the sardonic Emily, played by Kirsten Stewart, and the womanising Mike, played by Ryan Reynolds.
There’s a lot going on in this film and it’s all good! It is principally about the romantic entanglement between James and Emily.
Emily is a student at NYU and doesn’t need to work at Adventureland due to her father being very rich. But yet she chooses to work at the dismal amusement park, largely as a big “FU” to her socialite stepmother. Her birth mother died of cancer only a short time before her father remarried and “Em” has deep resentment toward said stepmother.
Through a mixture of grief and this resentment, she began dating the married Mike.
Mike Connell is the park technician and uses his good looks, effortless charisma and the fact he plays guitar, to impress the young women who frequent the park. Mike is a scumbag and everyone should hate him but of course, being so charming, it is hard to dislike him. And I’ve know real life people like this: people so charming, that even knowing what a shithouse they are, you still end up liking them all the same. I like to think that Mottola had Reynolds in mind when he wrote the character because he is so perfect here.
Let’s be straight: Emily is clearly in a dark place and many of her choices in this film are driven by her grief. Mike is clearly a bad decision and James is a rock to grab hold onto. And yet she struggles to handle a potentially good relationship with James.
There are further complications, such as James’ friend Joel, who has a crush on Emily and becomes upset when James and his crush become close and the Adventureland “It Girl”, Lisa P., played by Margarita Levieva, takes an interest in him. Everything comes to a head and resolves itself by the end of the movie in an enjoyable and satisfying way.
There’s not much else I can say about the story without spoiling it.
This being a slice of life indie film, it is very heavily character driven. Fortunately, everyone turns in great performances (even Kirsten Stewart, who I find to be a thoroughly uncharismatic actress, but that strangely works for her in this role). So chalk one up for great casting choices for their roles!
James occupies a weird space of being the guy the girls pursue. Kirsten Stewart’s character pretty much seduces James and I get the impression that his character probably wouldn’t have pursued her, despite his attraction. Kudos to Jesse Eisenberg’s acting skills. And then Lisa P., the hot girl all the guys have a crush on, pursues him because he is nice to her without any ulterior motive… which did seem a stretch too far. Or perhaps it doesn’t say much about Lisa P’s character.
In fact, Lisa P. does manage to criticise Emily for being a “home-wrecker” for having an affair with a married man, despite the fact that he is the one who is married. James points out how backward that is but Lisa P. is having none of it. This is also interesting considering Kristen Stewart would go on to have an affair with a married man and receive exactly the same criticism.
One thing I wanted to comment on is the setting: you’d be forgiven for not realising that this film is set during the 1980s. Yes, there is a lot of ‘80s background music but given how dismal Adventureland is, it feels more like that everyone else is modern day and it’s the park which is stuck in a time warp. I legit didn’t realise it was the ‘80s until a club scene later in the film.
This didn’t detract from the film, it is just a weird curiosity.
Anyway, it’s currently on Netflix, so if you have a couple of hours, definitely worth a watch.
TLDR; “A well polished non-indie indie film.”