Adventureland (Greg Mottola, 2009)

January 26, 2012


Adventureland is an especially good entry into the period coming-of-age film canon, its sharp eye for era detail, in the vein of Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, never leading to over romanticising of its 1980s setting. Initially seeming to be full of stock characters and scenarios for this sub-genre, the film impresses in its leisurely, assured exploration of its characters, both major and minor, affording depth that elevates any stereotypical elements they may possess.

Its simple narrative concerns Jesse Eisenberg’s James’ post-college, pre-graduate school plans floundering as a result of his father’s sudden employment woes, resulting in James having to take a summer job in a provincial amusement park. Initially loathing his fate, he slowly becomes accustomed to his new surroundings, befriending the likes of Martin Starr’s Joel and Kristen Stewart’s alternately fragile and strong Em, and developing romantic feelings towards the latter. The dilapidated park itself seems to mirror the lethargic groove its young characters find themselves in, though there are those, like Ryan Reynolds’ park repairman and Margarita Levieva’s alluring Lisa P., who seem to find a curious home of sorts amongst everything. This is one thing the film does especially well, capturing the feel of a particular low-wage work environment; the tedious necessities are enlivened by the rounded, colourful people you come to interact with.

The park acts as an alternative home to accommodate its character’s dysfunctionalities. The film’s comedic elements are sweetly mocking rather than overt and mean-spirited; everything is particularly low-key and downplayed. This approach is partially why one problem with the film is its final scene, which seems to betray what preceded it on a tonal level, though it is not enough to disregard the film to any strong degree; the effortless chemistry and tension between the two characters it concerns still makes for an emotionally exciting moment.

The film’s ambient atmosphere is one of its key factors in its elevation towards greatness. There are many affecting, oddly beautiful moments channeling melancholy, naivety, restlessness and longing. Serene twilight-set scenes harbour particularly touching introspection; the film has a pleasant warmth throughout. The soundtrack is especially beneficial to the atmosphere, providing a consistent taste of contemplative sorrow through the use of songs like “Pale Blue Eyes” by The Velvet Underground, the film’s unofficial theme song. Alternatively, songs like The Cure’s wonderful “Just Like Heaven” are used to score moments of abrupt, fleeting joy; Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus”, practically played on loop in the park, acts as the stomping, oppressive reminder of routine and being stuck.

The visual execution is also worthy of note. There’s an unabashed romantic feel to the cinematography, and a dynamic editing style. The beauty of amusement park lights in early evening is especially well captured and a pleasant recurrence; the out of focus lights at night often curiously look as though they are filtered through vision obstructed by tears, appropriate given the background of characters like Em that we explore. The whole film is aesthetically heartening, acutely observed and emotionally involving, allowing any complaints with the very final scenes to be easily forgiven.


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