Thursday 7 February 2019

The Underappreciated: Adventureland

A very occasional series, the purpose of which is to highlight films that are really underappreciated, and that you might get a kick out of viewing. Today, a 2009 vehicle for then rising star Jesse Eisenberg: Adventureland.

"One of the year's coolest comedies!" opines the review quote, because that's what the kids want, isn't it? A cool comedy? But you might guess, by dint of the fact that I'm featuring it here, that there's a bit more to it than that... although you wouldn't know it from IDMB's plot summary for Adventureland, which reads:

In the summer of 1987, a college graduate takes a 'nowhere' job at his local amusement park, only to find it's the perfect course to get him prepared for the real world.

Let's flesh that out a little, shall we? More specifically, college graduate James (Eisenberg) is expecting to set off on a European road-trip, bankrolled by his father, but when his dad suffers a massive pay cut our poor hero is faced with a dose of reality. Over-educated, smart-talking James then takes a job at the eponymous, somewhat down-on-its-luck amusement park, in the hope of raising some capital. And wouldn't you just know it, in the process, he learns more about life than he ever did in college. Here's the predictable trailer:

So what, right?

But there are lots of things that elevate this above the standard teen comedy / coming-of-age fare. First of all, there's the dialogue, which is whip-smart throughout, and a credit to writer and director Greg Mottola (who cut his teeth on Arrested Development and would later direct Pegg/Frost vehicle Paul). Here's a great scene illustrating precisely that. In it, Eisenberg plays the same sort of character that Hugh Grant portrays in virtually every Richard Curtis romcom, if that character were half the age and American, but don't hold that against him. Also, note his precise delivery of at-times complex, at-times rapid dialogue, a feat he would showcase to even greater effect in The Social Network. Enough - here's the clip:

Yes, that's Kristen Stewart as the girl James gets on with. There's also a girl he fancies, so sure, there's a love triangle to predict the outcome of too. Or two triangles, if you factor in James's colleague and sort-of friend, the older, wiser Mike (Ryan Reynolds). But I don't want to give any spoilers, so... so, what else elevates the film? Well, it's timeless. No, really. Made in 2009 but set in 1987, it just doesn't age, in the same way that Back To The Future doesn't. It is as much about 1987 as it is about coming-of-age or romance or comedy. So you get to wallow in nostalgia for a simpler, happier time: a time before mainstream access to the Internet, a time before widespread use of mobile phones, a time before celebrity culture ran amok... in short, you get to remember how life used to be. How the things that were important in your life were different, and simpler. How work was once just about a pay check and trying to get through it the best you could, with the people that circumstance had thrown you together with (plus ça change... right?). And you get all this with a great soundtrack to boot, and a lot of laughs.

I have yet to meet anyone who has actually watched this and not loved it. So what are you waiting for? Go and watch it!

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