Adventureland (2009) is hardly the comedy it is marketed as, but I suppose could be called a romantic comedy. If you’re looking for laughs on the level of Superbad, don’t come-a knockin’ in Adventureland. It was billed as a follow-up to Superbad, also directed by Greg Mottola. But the difference here is the producer — this is no Judd Apatow production, which would signal a comedy along the lines of The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, etc., and Superbad — Judd Apatow is probably the biggest comedy making machine working today, and he’s very good at it. At some point I’ll write a post highlighting outstanding comedies including his.
Here however is more of a serious romantic movie, bringing to mind, dare I say it, Kramer vs. Kramer or Blue Valentine. No, nothing so dire as those explorations of the dark downside of romantic relationships. But somewhere between Blue Valentine and Superbad is where I found the tone of Adventureland. Or perhaps more on target is the tone of something like a Woody Allen piece; there is a smidgen of Woody Allen in Jesse Eisenberg’s James. There is definitely humor effused throughout Adventureland, but not the hearty LOL-type of an Apatow production.
Starting off in the first 10 minutes of the movie, I thought I had another clunker on my hands. It does not start with much promise — the beginning few minutes elicited pretty much zero response in me. The premise is definitely a little tired — Jesse Eisenberg (Zombieland, on which I’ll later post, and The Social Network) plays James, a recent college graduate who can’t quite afford to go to Columbia University for graduate study, though he’s been admitted. The solution? A summer job, of course! This is the tired part of the story — James trying (briefly, thankfully) to get a job before landing one too easily at the local amusement park, which is the base for the rest of the film’s action.
That action consists of James interacting with some of the various characters who work at the park — largely played for comedic effect — and the burgeoning romantic interest, Em, or Emily (Kristen Stewart from the Breaking Twihard series). The comedy is sometimes a bit slapstick, but generally a little more subdued than one would expect. Rather than attempting to force a comedic approach without enough to go on, the filmmakers instead wisely centered this movie on the romantic development between James and Em. In so doing, Adventureland follows a formula that is hardly unique, but well executed — I found myself engrossed in the story of these characters, who all came across in a genuine way I could believe. I cared what happened and felt warmly toward them. And that’s where a movie like this succeeds.
I feel like my write-up here is rambling a bit and not providing justice to the movie, so let me sum up by saying Adventureland surprised me. I ended up liking it, and think you will too. Just don’t expect anything like Superbad or Knocked Up. 8/10