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by Roger Young / 11.06.2009

Adventureland may be from the director of Superbad, but it’s not the gross-out comedy the trailer let’s you think it is. It’s a much better film than that. Mottola’s gentle script and direction in this little film is reminiscent of the bittersweet teen romance period of the Brat Pack, and brings to mind that gentle time before John Hughes got wrapped up in the Home Alone franchise. While its modern touches on the virginity emphasis theme do grate, the overall feel of the film is a subtle evocation of the state of teenhood, where minor miscommunications and assumptions about other people’s lives can lead to broken hearts and cross country bus rides.

Set in an amusement park in 1987, it’s the sweet story of James Brennan’s summer job at the park, shortly after he discovers his parents can’t afford to send him to college. Peopled with the usual rich jocks, sluts, goofy guys and painful nerd intellectuals, there is nothing mind-bendingly original about the script. In fact, some of the story points are so well worn and predictable that it can at times feel like the script was plotted by numbers. The joy of it is in its handling: the refusal to go for easy solutions for minor characters and the further refusal to make a point of this. Essentially, Adventureland advances through a summer at the same speed, and with the same dull ache, as the teenage years tend to. Its mastery is that it’s all so familiar, so subtle and ultimately quite surface; these characters are only beginning to learn about bigotry, love, married men and the pains of adulthood. So they don’t delve too deep, but merely hint at the fact that all these issues are on the horizon.

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It’s hard not to be seduced by any film with a soundtrack featuring a lot of Velvet Underground songs and Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus”, but will these cultural references be lost on the teen crowd that is so used to its romances being easy and really just background for advertising and dancing? This film evokes a time when the teenage years were a period of self-exploration rather than self-exploitation, and this is why large portions of its easy charm may be lost on a younger audience. As much as they wouldn’t get Pretty in Pink. Mottola makes up for this, largely, with the character of Frigo, whose ball-punching antics make him the perfect foil to move the plot forward when needed.

Central to the film’s success are the performances of Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenburg, both of whom perform with grace and restraint. In fact, the only false note in the film occurs when Eisenburg reacts to a false assumption with a little too much vigour, seemingly slightly out of character. But then, that’s unpredictable teens for you. It’s not that Mottola skimps on the comedy; it’s merely that the comedy is secondary to the film’s central relationship. Expect no great things from Adventureland and you will not be disappointed. Its rides are sometimes made of polystyrene and the games are always fixed, but when you are that young and innocent you fight for what you believe in, even if you can’t see below the surface.

*Starring Jesse Eisenburg and Kristen Stewart. Directed by Greg Mottola.
Releases on mainstream cinema, 12th June.

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