Like 500 Days of Summer, Adventureland is about a boy whose relationships are led by romance, and the more jaded girl he falls for.
Jesse Eisenberg basically plays a more likeable version of his character in Squid and the Whale. In this film his character is more apologetic for his nerdiness and doesn’t try using his literary knowledge as a ploy to impress girls, so when it does slip out it is an honest expression of his personality rather than an angle. The montage of his attempts at getting entry-level jobs is one joke played over and over, but I laughed every time.
In fact I laughed throughout the film, but also like 500 Days, I was the only one to do so in a showing that was well attended for a movie this late in its release. The only time other people laughed, I didn’t. But it was a gaggle of girls and I don’t remember what it was they thought was so funny. We were obviously on different wavelengths.
The naturalistic acting was very welcome for this genre. Kristen Stewart almost makes me want to see Twilight, but I’ve heard it has the worst acting of 2008. Could this be the same actress?
Eisenberg is very good because he gives off the Michael Cera vibe but without the knowing, aren’t-I-funny-actually, invisible smirk that lurks behind Cera’s characters. Eisenberg wears the character more honestly.
The handheld camera works well because it also maintains a distance from the subjects it observes, a point of view that is matched by the judicious editing. Vignettes at the theme park often cut away midway through a scene, as if the film is documenting the rhythm of the day rather than waiting for a scripted sequence to play out.
Unfortunately Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig do not match the sensibility of the film, and stand out like cartoon characters who have strayed from the set of a Will Farrell comedy. Perhaps they are supposed to be the unlikely Prosperoes who preside over this parallel miniverse where Eisenberg inadvertently becomes the most sought after man on campus. Does their discontinuity with the otherwise normal world of the film just go to show that they are an unprepossessing Tom Bombadil and his Goldberry?
That notwithstanding, Greg Mottola shows more promise directing his own material than his Superbad debut let on. It looks like his next film, written by the Shaun/Fuzz team of Pegg and Frost, will go in yet a third direction, though it will likely be more in line with Superbad than Adventureland.
On future projects, if Mottola can resist the urge to fall back on mainstream comic relief like Hader and Wiig, which might be excused as a kind of safety reflex on his part, I think we will be seeing a well observed drama from him soon. The fact that Ryan Reynolds switched teams, joining the dramatic side of Adventureland instead of staying in the Hader/Wiig territory with which he is more familiar, is perhaps indicative of the trajectory Mottola wants to chart for himself.
Hopefully Adventureland will find favor with those who thought 500 Days was too creative or whatever. By contrast, Mottola attempts no formal flourishes that could be characterized as “artificial” or “gimmicky.” But despite his reluctance to admit cuteness, it is Mottola who lets his third act follow the most predictable of developments. It pains me to say this, because I love the mood and laid-back pace of Adventureland, but 500 Days is still the braver picture. (Yes, that just happened!)