Judge David Johnson threw up on the rollercoaster. Twice.
Our review of Adventureland, published August 31st, 2009, is also available.
It was the worst job they ever imagined…and the best time of their lives.
"From the director of Superbad" is plastered on the cover and the design is reminiscent of that movie. But don't be fooled, this is an entirely different kind of experience…and it's a keeper.
Facts of the Case
James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) is newly graduated from college and primed for journalism school at Columbia. But since money is an issue, he's forced to take a summer job at the local amusement park in Pittsburgh—Adventureland!
Besides mind-numbing manual labor, he finds a selection of oddball characters, including the eccentric owners (SNL's Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig), a hapless geek (Martin Starr), a mysterious handyman (Ryan Reynolds), and a compelling girl (Kristen Stewart, Twilight) who may be the love of his life, if he can sort through all that messy transition-to-adulthood crap.
Alter your expectations and I'm confident you'll have good time with Adventureland. Do not go in expecting a bawdy, gross-out, gut-laugh-a-minute romp. It's not that kind of movie. What writer/director Greg Mottola has crafted a dramedy grounded in obvious biographical details, light on dick jokes and heavy on charm.
This just feels authentic and Mottola doesn't drown his flick in contrived comedy set-ups or the typical debauchery we've all come to expect in our coming-of-age movies. Not that there aren't funny moments or debauchery, but none of it is ever over-the-top and the gags always serve the characters and the story.
For example, we learn vearly on that James is a virgin and I was already to dig in for an American Pie-like can-we-get-the-lovable-loser-laid misadventure. Nope, that character aspect serves a purpose, but it's not abused for the sake of cheap laughs and organically resolves itself in conjunction with the plot. Decisions like these keep the characters real and multi-dimensional. Plus, they're all well-acted; shout-outs to Jesse Eisenberg who turns in a pitch-perfect representation of transitional awkwardness and Kristen Stewart who's on-the-money as his emotionally confused counterpart.
Since drama is the more operative part of "dramedy," I wouldn't be surprised if viewers anticipating Superbad came away disappointed. The laughs are understated, as delivered by Wiig, Starr, and Hader, leaving the heavy-lifting to the young leads.
A solid Blu-ray awaits: the 1.85:1 transfer is slick, blasting out the beauty of Pittsburgh in the clear, detailed manner befitting such a picturesque metropolis. The color work is robust and varied (despite the general griminess of the theme park), transmitting both a tactile retro '80s feel and the enhanced resolution of the high-def future. A sharp treatment. Like the film, the audio is fairly subdued, but an A-list soundtrack—featuring David Bowie, The Cure, INXS, and Lou Reed—sounds terrific. Extras: a heartfelt commentary with Eisenberg and Mottola, some funny Adventureland commercials and training videos, a featurette on ball-slapping (for real), deleted scenes that maybe shouldn't have been entirely deleted, and a very good making-of documentary.
Would have I appreciated a more steady stream of hilarity? Sure, but once I settled in and learned to appreciate Adventureland for what it is—an amusing, engaging slice of life with a kick-ass soundtrack and Bill Hader threatening people with a baseball bat—I enjoyed it considerably.
Not Guilty. You win the big-ass panda!
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2009 David Johnson; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.