Adventureland (Greg Mottola, 2009)

I tagged both this and Zombieland, both starring Jesse Eisenberg, both made in the same year and both with similar titles and put them down to watch together, presuming them to be connected. Only when I came to decide which to watch first did I discover that they are completely unrelated films, except for the coincidences listed above.

In this film, Eisenberg plays James Brennan, just leaving school in 1987 and about to head off for a summer in Europe with his friend before taking up his studies in New York to become a journalist. Very late on, he discovers that his father’s job has been ‘downgraded’ meaning James’ parents can no longer pay for his holiday and, further, he’s going to need to take a summer job in order to save some money for college. Utterly unprepared for this, James finds he hasn’t relevant experience to get any job he might actually like and, instead finds the only place that will accept him is a nearby funfair, Adventureland, that operates over the summer and accepts just about anybody. Even then, he can’t get on the ‘Rides’ team, the least worst of the options available, and has to work on ‘Games’ instead.

While there, he makes a friend of pipe-smoking cynic Joel (Martin Starr), who shows him the ropes, and falls for the drily ironic Em (Kristen Stewart), after she saves him from being attacked. James is a virgin and Em is decidedly not, having already had several sexual relationships, and she is currently in a clandestine relationship with the married rides technician, Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds). Connell is a sleazebag, a musician who trades on the ‘cool’ of a pretended period supporting Lou Reed, to seduce young women but James makes the mistake of trusting him as a friend, even though he soon recognises that the Lou Reed connection is bullshit, Connell knowing far less about Reed than James, a Velvet Underground and Reed fan, does himself. The question is whether James and Em’s relationship will flourish, or will her low self-esteem and her secret, and his naiveté and inexperience, mean they fail to consummate their budding romance.

The characters are generally well drawn and likeable – even Connell is mostly likeable, despite his despicable actions; of course it’s his charisma that sells his ability to charm the girls – and the drama is low-key and believable. Mostly. I do have a bit of a problem with James. He’s just too cool. For a naïve virgin nerd, he seems a bit too self-possessed. Of course, I’m judging him by how I and my friends were at that age, but he just seems to be too idealised a version of the writer’s own youth, with a large dose of wish-fulfilment in the mix.

Still, I did enjoy this, including Kristen Stewart’s acting. Whatever the virtues, or otherwise, of the Twilight films and her acting in them (I can’t judge, as I’ve never seen them), the notion and internet meme of her being unable to even vary her facial expression, let alone act, is well wide of the mark.


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