Dateline! 1987. With a degree in Comparative Lit in one hand and an acceptance letter to Columbia's graduate program in the other, James (Jesse Eisenberg) is ready to shuffle off to Europe for the summer. He has every step of the trip calculated down to the very last cent, but what James didn't really take into consideration was his pop (Jack Gilpin) being demoted at work. Europe's out, and his folks aren't even going to be able to help him out with rent in the Big Apple. That's a drag, but it'll be okay in the end; James has all summer to squirrel away money for Columbia, so all he has to do is land a job. Turns out that's kind of a tall order for someone who can't really do anything but ramble on about Charles Dickens' travels to prisons and sanitariums, but the rotting, crumbling, embarrassment of an amusement park down the road -- Adventureland! -- is always desperate for warm bodies to work the stands. James is stuck working games that are mostly rigged: y'know, toss rings that won't fit on bottles, try to knock off hats that have been glued onto mannequins' heads, call a fake horse race like a hypercaffeinated announcer at the Kentucky Derby...it's depressing, soul-crushing work, but at least it gives James a chance to pal around with Em (Kristen Stewart). It doesn't seem like a match made in wherever -- the awkwardly pretentious lit kid and a girl this beautiful and fiercely rebellious -- but they get along immediately, and James eventually stumbles his way into boyfriend-dom. Em's been kind of a wreck ever since her mom died, though, and she's let herself be used by Connell (Ryan Reynolds), the park's maintenance guy-slash-resident rock star, whenever he decides he wants a taste of something about fifteen years younger than what his wife has to offer. So...yeah. It kind of goes without saying that none of this ends well for much of anyone.
Adventureland shrugs off a lot of the usual conventions. For one, Em and James like each other straight off the bat; there's none of the usual they-meet-cute-but-can't-stomach-each-other, one of 'em chips away at that Wall of Dislike, they fall head-over-heels...you know how the rest of that song goes. There's not some looming arch-nemesis to conquer. The "worst" character in the movie in that sense is Connell, who's really just a pathetic guy pawing for something more while pretending he already has it. Connell isn't an obstacle, though. He actually tries to help James along, and he never makes it a point to really stomp on that blossoming romance...Connell just wants what he wants, and he can take or leave anything else. That's a template quite a few of the characters in Adventureland fit: deeply flawed but likeable enough that you can generally handle the good with the bad. Em is broken...so numbed by her pain that even though she knows her flings with Connell won't ever amount to anything, she subjects herself to them anyway just to feel something. I'd only caught Kristen Stewart in bit parts up till now, but she makes an enormous impression here, juggling Em's detachment with some gruelingly emotional moments. Another standout is Martin Starr, whose character is kind of a shattered mirror image of James. Poor, not particularly good looking, saddled with a meaningless degree, wholly aware just how ridiculous his affectations are, no real friends to call his own...Joel appreciates what James has more than he does.
Jesse Eisenberg is an
There's been some grousing on DVD Talk's forums that Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart really don't have all that much chemistry together. That's true to a point, but I think this is one of those rare cases where that works to the movie's favor, actually. It's kind of the Scott Pilgrim dilemma: he's smitten with her because...well, who wouldn't be? Em's intrigued by that infatuation, and since he seems like so much of a nicer guy than the pricks she usually pals around with, she decides to give it a shot. It's not love. Sure, it might wind up there eventually, but leading up to those final few days before the park shuts its doors for the season, they're just playing their parts...doing what they think they're supposed to be doing, not that anyone in Adventureland has any idea what that really is, exactly.
Adventureland has a kind of oddball sense of humor, and it's not even close to what the TV spots painted. The gags that really drew me in are half-whispered, almost muttered just as the camera starts to veer away. It's completely disinterested in Big Comedic Setpieces!™, and its characters are more likely to poke fun at graffiti reading "Satin Lives" (no doubt the handiwork of a textile-worshipping cult!) or that one of the park's rides is misspelled "The Flighing Dutchman". On one hand, the comedy's really low-key and understated, and on the other...well... You have Frigo (Matt Bush), a prick who pees on a window, rants about jerking off on James' face if he'd doze off, and spends the entire movie slugging guys in the balls. Munch (Barret Hackney) belts out his screechiest Geddy Lee and air-drums to "Limelight". It's like nails on top of more nails on chalkboard -- and that's the point, natch -- but it feels spliced in from something else altogether. I'm a huge fan of Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, who latch onto kind of a classic comedy routine as the park's married managers. Yeah, I'm digging Hader's cartoonish moustache, and there's something kind of funny about how chintzy the two of 'em are, how desperate they are to be liked by the college-aged staffers, and their passive-aggressive ways of tolerating each other. Still, it too often feels completely out of step with the rest of the flick. There's enough I like about Adventureland that I didn't mind it that much, but I think the movie would've been better off plowing ahead full-bore one way or the other...either keep it low-key or go deliriously over-the-top.
I may have
The trailers may have painted Adventureland as cut from the Apatow cloth, but it veers off into a different direction altogether. This is an understated love story about a couple of aimless barely-twentysomethings clawing their way towards adulthood. Nothing awe-inspiringly dramatic happens, and it won't leave much of anyone doubled over in laughter, but it's that low-key approach...its sincerity...that drew me in. Recommended.
Oh, and don't get tripped up by the "Unrated!" banner on the front cover. This is the R-rated theatrical cut of the film, and there isn't an unrated version lurking in the shadows. (Greg Mottola notes that he was approached about putting one together, but his director's cut would probably be ten minutes shorter, even.) The extras are unrated, but that's completely meaningless, and there's nothing in that half-hour or so of footage that couldn't at worst score an R rating anyway. Despite its bloated sticker price -- Adventureland is saddled with a $45 MSRP -- this Blu-ray disc seems to be priced at retail the same as most every other day-and-date release coming down the pike, and that eases the sting of a not-particularly-great selection of extras.
I'm really impressed by just how well Adventureland has turned out on Blu-ray. It has some uneven stretches, sure, but its 1080p video is nearly always crisp and richly detailed. Black levels are generally deep and inky, bolstering the almost three-dimensional look of this high-def image. Rather than slathering the screen in the sorts of skewed, candy-colored hues I'd expect from a late-'80s period piece, its palette tends to have a golden tint to it, almost as if I'm squinting outside at a quarter to six as the sun is just starting to head down. Its colors are really striking, especially the smooth gradients in the lighting. The faintly gritty texture of the film grain also helps set a certain nostalgic tone, and Adventureland just wouldn't have been the same movie if it had been shot digitally. This particular stock doesn't look as if it holds up particularly well under low light, though, and in some night shots, blacks tend to look like more of an off-kilter purple. That doesn't happen so often as to drag the overall score down all that much, though, and Adventureland is yet another in a long line of strong outings on Blu-ray by Miramax.
Very faint letterboxing preserves Adventureland's theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and its AVC encode is kept at a high enough bitrate to spill over onto the second layer of this BD-50 platter.
Adventureland sports a remarkably effective 24-bit, six-channel DTS-HD Master Audio track. Rather than light atmospheric color meekly lilting from the surrounds, the mix is spry, lively, and unexpectedly immersive. There's a consistently strong sense of directionality, and the imaging even extends to Yo La Tengo's score as its instrumentation spreads to fill all of the channels at its fingertips. Bass response can be deep and resounding when it needs to be, particularly during a thunderous fireworks display. Adventureland is most intensely driven by its dialogue and a sprawling soundtrack, and those are both rendered well, although a few scattered lines do slink further into the background than I would've liked. Overall, though, Adventureland is packing a great mix that's at least a little more ::wait for it...wait for it...:: adventurous than I would've expected.
Also included are Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs in French and Portuguese. A stereo dub is served up in some exotic language whose characters I apparently can't decipher, and because at least part of the expansive list of subtitles is presented that same way, I can't really rattle off any more than the English (SDH), French, Spanish, and Portuguese subs.
There's surprisingly little here: an audio commentary, a hit-or-miss EPK, and another fifteen minutes of fairly weak laughs.
Adventureland opens with seven minutes (!) of high-def trailers and promos, although those can at least be skipped. This Blu-ray disc comes packaged with a glossy cardboard sleeve, and the standard issue digital copy is also tucked inside.
The Final Word
What's particularly startling about Adventureland is that...well, there's nothing startling about it at all. This isn't a movie that clings to formula like some sort of security blanket. It doesn't have the same booming sense of humor as Superbad and doesn't wade around waistdeep in teen angst either. Adventureland's charms are much more understated than that...about real barely-twentysomethings fumbling their way through life and love. Nothing sweeping or overly dramatic happens, it's not a laugh riot, and this isn't a movie likely to still be lingering in your mind two or three years down the road. Some may point to that as a misstep, but to me, Adventureland feeling so much like a summer carved out of someone's life is precisely what makes it worth seeking out. I'm especially keen on the idea of a coming-of-age movie that isn't rooted around clean-scrubbed kids fresh out of high school, and its underlying intelligence, respect for its characters, and understated sense of humor set it apart from pretty much everything else out there. Recommended.