In 2007, director Greg Mottola made a huge dent in the world of comedy with the hit Superbad. With the assistance of writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, he delivered one of the funniest films of the year and still kept it sincere underneath the loads of vulgar language. In 2009, Mottola went out on his own and wrote and directed the film Adventureland, a project probably very close to his heart because he worked at the real Adventureland long ago. For his sake, I hope this was not an account of his actual experiences there. Not only was this film about as funny as stubbing your toe on the refridgerator, it was overrun with whiny characters that pulled no sympathy from me.
It's 1987 and James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) just graduated from college. Before attending Graduate school at Columbia, James wants to spend some time in Europe in hopes of losing his virginity to an easy foreign girl. But when the cost of his trip increases unexpectedly, James is forced to find himself a summer job to pay for the difference. Enter Adventureland, the local amusement park where James' friend Frigo (Matt Bush, the kid from the AT&T commercials, and the only funny part of this film) works. After a brief interview with park manager Bobby (Bill Hader) and his wife Paulette (Kristen Wiig), James begins his thrilling career as a game shack attendant. Life looks bleak for James until he is spotted by Em (Kristen Stewart), another game attendant. The two spark up a friendship that soon turns into romantic feelings for James. But Em's chaotic home life and an attractive musician mechanic named Connell (Ryan Reynolds) jeopardize James' chance of making this summer one he will remember forever, in a good way at least. Falsely advertised as a comedy, Adventureland is a drama chronicling the life of a post-graduate loser in Reagan era Long Island.
Adventureland did have one aspect going for it in it's favor. It was a realistic film in how people, specifically younger generations, interacted with each other in their awful job environment. The awkward and somewhat gloomy nature of these poor souls was a truthful account, so in that respect Mottola did a great job at writing. However, this brings up a serious problem in the film. Real life is not all that funny. In Superbad, the friendship between the two main characters was real, but events in the film were heavily exaggerated to accommodate the comedy of the film. In Adventureland, everything that happened was practical and thus much less funny. Mottola left little room for comedy and instead put heavy effort into developing his characters. In a dramatic film, character development is key. There needs to be a significant amount of it in order to draw an audience in. However, a comedy does not need nearly as much attention put in to the characters. In a good comedy, such as Superbad, the very beginning of the film introduces us to exactly who our main protagonists are. As the film progresses, subtle actions inside the comedy reveal more and more about the characters, but we are never force fed the material. Mottola takes this short 5 minutes of character introduction and stretches it into a full hour. Because of this, there is no light-hearted interlude between the moments we meet our friend James and the main issue of the film. It is drama through and through, and I was looking for a comedy.
Perhaps the biggest disease that Adventureland suffered from was the fact that it was a character driven film with boring characters and lackadaisical actors. Jesse Eisenberg plays the soft spoken intellectual James in a static way that is reminiscent of Michael Cera. Both emit an air of pathetic awkwardness, and neither ever really raise their voice beyond a certain level. The only difference is that Michael Cera is actually funny. Line after line Eisenberg delivers with the same "enthusiasm", and never once did he bring a smile to my face. Much like Paul Rudd's character in I Love You, Man was embarrassing to watch, Eisenberg overplays the quirkiness of his role and never shows the maturity that his character supposedly gained. The lone bright spot as far as performances go belongs to Kristen Stewart, who may have actually been too good for her role. The confusion and mayhem that was Em's life is brought forth with stunning strength though Stewart's performance. I say she may have been too good for this role because since everybody else was so awful and she was so spot on, the gap between was uncomfortably recognizable. However good of a job Stewart did though can be overlooked by the fact that she too, has not a single comedic line in Adventureland. So far, we have a comedy with two main characters. One is pathetically unfunny despite his best efforts, and the other is straight-laced and meant to amp up the drama. Forget good performances, somebody say something funny! It was here that the supporting cast contributed hugely to the film. Matt Bush as James' pestering friend was by far the funniest aspect of Adventureland, but was unfairly underutilized. I have seen Bush in a few TV commercials and I was glad to see that he transferred well onto a big screen. His future in the film industry will hopefully long, despite his upcoming project, Halloween 2. And of course, Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig deliver as always but are, like Bush, rarely on screen. Martin Starr, as James' game shack mentor Joel, provides little to nothing to film, and may as well have been dropped from the script entirely.
It can be argued that Adventureland was not meant to be a comedy in the vein of Superbad but rather a touching coming of age story. This statement I can live with, but respectfully disagree. This film has been marketed vigorously as a hilarious follow-up to Superbad so that is exactly what I expected. Marketing this film as a comedy makes about as much sense as marketing Schindler's List as a great date movie. But judging Adventureland as a coming of age tale does not help it much. Because of the dismal acting and irritating characters, the journey into manhood didn't interest me in the slightest. The final resolution to the film is predictable and conjured not a single emotion from me. The characters themselves showed little emotion to any situation presented to them. They simply looked bored, and that made me bored with them.
Adventureland is a very long 107 minutes that is only good for a few chuckles and one solitary worth while performance. Greg Mottola has fallen victim to the sophomore slump, falling well short of the expectations brought about by Superbad. To those of you who may complain that I am being unfair by comparing this film to Superbad, let me say this. Adventureland as a lone film was boring, not funny, and a waste of $8. My rating (2/10)