Friday, April 03, 2009
"Adventureland": Disney meets Pittsburgh, meets the guy comedy world
“Adventureland” is perhaps best known as one of the four Disneyland kingdoms, and the source of many documentaries in the 1950s. It’s also an amusement park in Pittsburgh, and that becomes both the setting and title of the latest “guy” comedy, from Greg Mottola and Miramax Pictures (rated R, 107 min).
Actually, it’s also a coming-of-age 80s movie, set in 1987 in the rust belt. I thought of “Edge of 17”, set in Ohio in 1984, and by way of comparison this movie seems like an “Edge of 22”, but for heterosexuals (with pretty much the same game playing as in Strand’s 1999 comedy).
Jesse Eisenberg, determined to look as much like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg (if someone makes a movie about the origin of Facebook, Jesse is the obvious casting choice) as possible, plays the bookish college grad James Brennan, wanting a hostel trip to Europe (without the complications of Lions Gate, thank you), a graduate fellowship at Columbia, and to lose his virginity. (Sound familiar?) Well, remember that 1987 was the time of hostile takeovers. His father has taken a lower paying job after such an event, even as Ronald Reagan (already losing it) appears on television to excuse the contras – the movie takes place a couple months before the stock market crash that year. I remember how things were in my own career then -- a middle manager says, "in this economy, people who don't do their jobs won't have jobs." - And all, in that era, because of corporate raiders -- arbitrageurs and arbitrageuses.
So James (aka Jesse) does the summer job interview circuit and learns about the free market cultural revolution. It seems like he’s never worked before, practically. I’ve heard that. It’s time to become a peasant, or at least a prole. ("I can't even qualify for manual labor!") He gets on the good side of amusement park manager Bobby (SNL’s Bill Hader, who unfortunately spots a bit of a mushy gut through his uniform shirt), who wants to put him on games. And James has to turn up the enthusiasm. But that gets converted to some love rectangles and engagements as he works toward a score, through all his intellectual conversation (“hyperbolic”) about comparative literature (like Moby Dick). He gets a little more loose with the bottle and weed, too, to the dismay of his parents. Oh, Eisenberg, shirtless in a couple scenes, gets to remind us of a small-scale Michael Phelps around the pool. And, yes, to move the movie toward a payoff (in New York, after all), "James" will talk about "intercourse" in the abstract, while knowing full well that guys look at S.I.B.M. as a mandatory life benchmark. (Those visitors who knew me in the Army back around 1969 know what "S.I.B.M." stood for.)
The women in the chain-dating polygons (or perhaps dunes) include Kelsey Ford and Kristen Stewart (Kristen Wiig plays a park's owner), Michael Zegen, Matt Bush and Martin Starr at to the list of "guy things" and carry more obvious male swagger than Jesse's character, at least at first. It seems to me that Justin Long should be cast in any movie like this!
Technically, the film, while quick-paced without breaks, is focused: it seems to move as a series of close-ups, which required the director to use the "traditional" 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
I saw this film at an AMC Theater in Arlington VA, large auditorium, at 8 PM and it was almost 70% full. AMC classifies this film as "AMC Select" despite its obviously "mainstream" adult audience. And the audience laughed, and perhaps cackled.
Update: Sunday April 5, 2009
Visit Ann Hornaday's long discussion on film editing on p E01 of the Washington Post April 5, 2009, "What Makes the Cut?: To Appreciate the Art of Film Editing, You Have to Start With a Frame of Reference", link here. She discusses the editing (and directorial and writing techniques) of "Adventureland". It's all very interesting and I will come back to it later.