Adventureland – Quirky and Awkward as Expected

Adventureland PosterAdventureland has been on my list to see since it came out. It always seemed exactly like the kind of movie I love and, well, it is. It’s the kind of film I relate to probably a bit more than I should.

It’s not a screwball comedy or, really, even a standard rom-com. It doesn’t quite dip into the “stoner” genre, even though there’s a bit of weed involved here and there in the film. It’s just the sort of film that feels “real” to me, in part because of all the flaws I see in the world and the people around me… and how those flaws often come together in amazing ways to make the magic of friendship, love, and adventure happen.

The Plot

James has plans. Before heading off to college in New York City with his best friend, they’re going to spend the summer in Europe, living it up. James has never really faced any hardship, or been left wanting for much in his life. That all changes when the bottom falls out of family fortunes and he’s told that, instead of going to Europe, he’s going to have get a summer job in order to pay for college.

That… doesn’t go so well, as he’s never worked a day in his life. (And really can’t sell himself very well, either.)

Eventually, his job search takes him to Adventureland, a third-rate amusement park near his home town. He is, of course, immediately hired and set to work running one of the (rigged) games in the park. His coworkers aren’t exactly the cream of the crop, many of them have made some very poor life choices or suffer from really low self-esteem. Some, even though they’re in their 20s, are still stuck in a very “high school” mode of behavior–longing to be like the “cool kids” and jockeying for popularity and status among their peers.

He kind of falls for one of those coworkers, Em, who also, reluctantly, falls for him. Unfortunately, much like in life, even that summer romance isn’t something simple and fun.

The Heart of It All

Like I said, this is the kind of movie I love. There isn’t a single “clean” character in the mix. Every single one of them has rough edges and flaws that will remind you of at least one person you know. Possibly even yourself. The interactions (and bad decisions) are familiar not despite, but because of, their sometimes awkward nature.

There’s more than just “nostalgia” and “quirk” value, it being set in the 80s and all that. It’s not a Judd Apatow film, but it feels just enough like one. It’s not a Cameron Crowe film, either, but it feels a bit like one of those, too. If you lived through the 80s and can remember them, well, the sound track just kicks ass.

All of that comes together into a story of self-discovery and the importance of actually taking responsibility for the direction you go in life. James has the rug pulled out from underneath him (more than a few times in the course of the film, actually) and he doesn’t always handle it well. Em is so used to making bad decisions that it’s literally traumatic for her to actually take control of her life and try to do the right thing.

I know a lot of people don’t really care much for Jesse EIisenberg or Kristen Stewart, but they’re perfectly cast in this film (and in the others they play opposite each other… their mutual “oddness” just works… at least for me). Having Ryan Reynolds as the local epitome of cool (yet still terribly, terribly flawed) just makes everything else work all the better.

There’s plenty of comedy here. Some of it a lot more witty and rye than other bits. As with many newer films that focus on the “freaks, geeks, and weirdos”, derogatory “humor” that happens isn’t glorified and it’s never actually the punchline. The bullies get their due, the nerds endure (not always gracefully, but they always end up among friends).

There’s plenty of drama here, too. The relationship dynamics play true to so much I’ve seen in life over the years it’s not even funny. The failures are legitimately painful. The successes, fully joyful. Most stuff, though… most stuff hovers somewhere in between. Even when everything goes great, there’s still that reminder of there always being consequences somewhere down the road.

The Verdict

It’s the kind of movie that, very often, is a bittersweet pleasure. These days, I think, this and others like it leave me more maudlin than they used to. Of course, that’s no surprise, since one of the reasons I’ve waited so long to get around to this is because I wanted someone else to watch it with, to experience it with, to have more than just my own experiences coloring the afterglow of the film.

Not at all unlike James in the film. Or Em.

This movie is about discovery. Discovering who you really are, what really matters to you. Pushing through the pain and crappy hand life has dealt you and doing something with it. Not just “something”… your thing. Finding those who will support you, and those who will tear you down or hold you back, and then choosing which ones you’re going to keep in your life.

It’s also about how things don’t always work out as planned. How what you discover isn’t always good or comfortable or pleasant. And how that won’t necessarily be the end of the world for you.

Anyway, if you like kind of quirky and awkward semi-romantic, low-key, almost rambling tales of relationships (both romantic and otherwise), check it out.

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