Netflix UK film review: Adventureland
Ivan Radford | On 27, Jun 2016
Director: Greg Mottola
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Bill Hader
Watch Adventureland online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
You ever get the feeling that a film is based on your life? No surprises, then, that Adventureland was based on Greg Mottola’s own coming-of-age experiences. His breakthrough film, Superbad, was a shallow, sex-driven man-fest. His follow-up, though, is is all his own writing – and far more mature.
It’s your standard geek-gets-girl set-up, a la usual Judd Apatow fare. But unlike 40 Year Old Virgin or Knocked Up, these 1980s kids are real geeks. The type who say things like: “You don’t want ‘virgin’ to be your signifier…” “You only took 3 semiotics classes!” This is the kind of territory where people have a degree in Renaissance Studies, and “Nimrod” is a valid insult.
Recent graduate James (Eisenberg) is in for a culture shock, then, when his plans for a Europe trip fall through, leaving him with one choice: a summer job. Cue a stint in the shoddy theme park Adventureland. He’s not cool enough for the Rides, but he gets his own Games booth. So does Em (Stewart), a cute, well-off grad from NYU, who still works there each summer. At which point, a predictable romance rears its head.
As the two 20-somethings circle each other, James gets increasingly anxious. But the focus is never on popping his cherry; rather, Mottola’s script sculpts fleshed-out characters for his quality jokes. So we get Bobby (Hader), the barmy amusement park head, the pipe-smoking Joel (Starr), who reads Gogol, and the wife-cheating Mike (Reynolds), who’s having an affair with Em.
Mottola’s funny fairground is a messy place, not just because of the corn dogs and dried vomit. Hormones run amok, especially when James breaks out his mini-stash of joints. The impressive thing? It’s all believable. Kristen Stewart oozes convincing angst as Em, pouting without ever putting it on – this was the first of many, many roles that have proven the nuanced Stewart one of the most underrated stars of her generation. Jesse Eisenberg, meanwhile, is as compelling, spiky and charismatic as ever.
Led by its likeable couple, Adventureland’s wit works because of its wonderful cast; delivering depth as well as decent laughs, they’re all spot-on as the saddened slave force: “The wages are terrible.” “Don’t forget we are doing the work of pathetic lazy morons”. Ryan Reynolds, in particular, is fantastic, playing an unlikeable part with the kind of low-key pathos that teased his future roles in The Voices and Buried.
Drawn together by a talented director, Mottola makes this a sincere tale of growing up – away from Superbad’s more restrictive screenplay, he equals his work on Arrested Development, conjuring an intimate, honest depiction of one dork’s days in love. The period soundtrack may be twee, but the emotions are definitely not. Affectionate and enjoyable, Adventureland does away with grossout gags and rom-com clichés. A genuinely charming film.
Adventureland is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.