“I’m amazed at how tiny my paycheck is.”
The Scoop: 2009 R, directed by Greg Mottola and starring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, and Ryan Reynolds
Tagline: It was the worst job they ever imagined and the best time of their lives.
Summary Capsule: the summer before going off to graduate school, a young man’s parents can no longer provide him with the money they promised so he has to take any job he can: welcome to Adventureland!
Kyle’s Rating: Kristen Stewart can do no wrong EVER
Kyle’s Review: Although I surely would have enjoyed Adventureland without it, having seen I Love You, Man helped enlarge Jesse Eisenberg’s lead performance immensely. Paul Rudd, already enshrined in the Comedy Hall of Greatness, delivered above and beyond what was expected in his role. Yet Rudd couldn’t overcome his script’s inability to sketch a wholly believable male not only born without the skills to form normal male friendships but seemingly incapable of even attempting to fake the behaviors allowing her to “fit in” socially. I Love You, Man is very, very funny, don’t get me wrong. But there is a consistent distance throughout that, basically, never let you forget you’re watching a fictional comedy film. Is that a bad thing? Not at all.
Adventureland, by contrast, had me physically wincing in my seat at certain points. At one point, not coincidentally involving Kristen Stewart, I was hugging my legs in a fetal position. Strip away the film’s kitschy 1980’s setting, a couple background characters with traits seemingly designed just to bring in some easy laughs, and plenty of audience-friendly illicit narcotics humor, and there is a definite heart at its core. Raging emotions under the surfaces, painfully honest displays of vulnerability, and way too many of those instances of complete helplessness against the tides of Real Life.
Whether you’ve lived through any kind of whack summer job such as Eisenberg’s James Brennan is forced by the circumstance of his parents’ dwindling fortunes to seek out at skuzzy yet charming Adventureland, it doesn’t exactly matter. You should be fully able to feel James’ disbelief at where he finds himself, and his growing infatuation with Kristen Stewart’s Em Lewin. Just as you should be able to feel essentially every other character, even the guy whose idea of emotional communication is punching old childhood friend James in the genitals at least once a day. They all resonate as “real” people, working away the summer in Adventureland for a wide variety of reasons but able to bond over a general sense of being way overqualified for their jobs (mostly) and a true love for booze and pot. And who among us can’t empathize with that?
I could go on about the minor characters, who are great, and the major supporting players, who are just as necessarily great in their strong support roles. Ryan Reynolds especially manages to make what would be an utterly antagonistic role in another (probably lesser) film into a not only believable but very sympathetic character. The movie soundtrack pretty much rules as well, even for those who didn’t grow up in the ‘80s. But my strongest applause is reserved for Eisenberg, who seems to specialize in the type of role Michael Cera excels at though Eisenberg’s domain is much farther along the dramatic spectrum than Cera’s, and his love interest, Stewart.
Kristen Stewart is a controversial figure in modern cinema. Beyond arguments over whether she can actually act or simply play herself compellingly over and over again, her involvement in Twilight polarizes a lot of cinemaphiles outside of their teens, and Stewart’s real-life penchant for either acting stoned or being photographed getting stoned upsets plenty of regular gossip magazine readers.
As far as I’m concerned, Kristen Stewart is to film as Grant Morrison is to writing. Her facial quirks are completely charming, the habit of extreme hairplay she brings to her every performance are the stuff legends are made of, and her consistently aloof mumbling vocal delivery places her above any other current female actor. Even those with so-called “Academy Award” wins on their resumes. Adventureland’s quality construction would have alone guaranteed a good film, but its performances make it great. Stewart, whose tandem lead narrative is the more emotionally-convoluted and, in its slight contradictions, more inherently human, helps the film transcend time and space. Decade and location are interesting here, to be sure. But what matters is Eisenberg and Stewart’s relationship. If you don’t feel its rawness, I’m not sure you’ve ever lived!
Adventureland certainly hit a pretty sensitive spot within me, based on current circumstances. But I’m just as certain you’ll enjoy it regardless, if not for the painfully real central relationship and nuanced performances, then for the amusingly observed quirks that characterize any summer job-from-hell and the bizarre decade of the ‘80s. Never too over-the-top and never going for the ‘wasn’t big hair funny?’ type of idiot humor, I found Adventureland a refreshingly honest theater experience. So much so that even with scant minutes before the end, I remained unsure of any kind of impending happy ending. It speaks to how involved I was in these characters, though, that I found myself desperately hoping for one.