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Movie Review: 'Adventureland' takes a trip back in time to '80s glory days

Lane Blevins • Apr 9, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Throughout the tenure of my borderline unhealthy obsession with movies, I don’t believe I have ever seen a film billed so misleadingly as “Adventureland.”

To look at the trailers and TV spots, one would think “Adventureland” is yet another entry into the current comedy landscape of the Judd Apatow universe. After all, the film features the ever-present Apatow player Bill Hader, and its advertisements heavily tout its connection to the Apatow-produced smash “Superbad.”

Here’s the catch, though: “Adventureland” is NOT funny, which may sound like an open and shut case for a bad movie. But it’s not. And I love this movie.

So, how does that work? Like I said, the film is billed all wrong. “Adventureland” is, from start to finish, a homage to the 1980s coming-of-age dramedy. It is a tribute to the early films of Cameron Crowe, Amy Heckerling and, particularly, John Hughes. Yes, I invoked the mighty name of John Hughes.

“Adventureland” is set in 1987 and features James Brennan (played by Jesse Eisenberg) as an intellectual soon-to-be college grad who finds his hopes of a summer trip to Europe dashed by his father’s downsizing at work. When his parents can no longer afford to pay for school (much less a trip to Europe).

James finds himself looking for the dreaded “summer job.”

With no other options, he is forced to take a friend up on a job offer at a beat-down amusement park run by a couple of nutcases (SNL players Bill Hader and the VERY funny Kristen Wiig). But when he meets the only girl he has ever been truly attracted to, James finds himself having the summer of his life, all while trying to find a path to what is next.

But this is only the gist of a humble, character-driven story built on a framework of nostalgia and truly GREAT music by Yo La Tengo, Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground.

Remember how “The Breakfast Club,” “St. Elmo’s Fire,” “Say Anything,” and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” were comedies less about jokes and more about digging into what it was REALLY like to be growing up? They were films that resonated with us not through an onslaught of jokes about body parts, but through the silly poignancy of a kid standing with a boom box over his head outside of his crush’s window.

And like these masterpieces of ’80s cinema, “Adventureland” has its fair share of serious moments, like the teen pregnancy in “Fast Times” and Demi Moore’s coke problem in “St. Elmo’s Fire.”

But the best part about “Adventureland” is that the film is set in the ’80s. So not only is the flick a nostalgic reminder of films past, but it is also completely devoid of cell phones, MySpace, and emo kids with disheveled hair that took two hours to style. It’s great!

My main criticism of “Adventureland” is the poorly written “comic sidekick” character “Frigo,” played by Matt Bush, who simply misses the mark … a lot. Also, while I would have loved to hang out with someone like James in real life, I’m not quite sure what to think of his real-life counterpart, Jesse Eisenberg.

So the final word is this — if you are expecting “Knocked Up” or “Superbad,” then you’re going to be disappointed. But if you have a special place in your heart for the films I mentioned above, then come and bask in the nostalgic rays of “Adventureland.”

3 stars (out of 4)

STARRING: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig

DIRECTED BY: Greg Mottola

RATED: R for language, drug use and sexual references

RUNNING TIME: 1 hour, 47 minutes

Lane Blevins is an aspiring filmmaker.

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