MOVIE REVIEW- Losing it: <i>Adventureland</i> is virgin territory


There's a lot of talk in Adventureland about how guys are "wired" to crave meaningless sex. There's no mention of men's need to share their sexual experiences, especially their first, with the world, often through books or movies.

Greg Mottola (The Daytrippers) may not share the first compulsion– at least the protagonist based on him doesn't– but he's a poster boy for the second. Adventureland, his latest as writer-director, is more adult than most youth-oriented sex comedies because James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg, a less gawky Michael Cera) has graduated college with his "Scarlet V (for Virgin)" intact.

The Jonas Brothers didn't sell him a purity ring– it's 1987 and they haven't been born yet. He's just a romantic who doesn't want to do it until he's in love. He's horny, but he wants meaningful sex. (I can remember feeling that way. I was, what, 12?)

The soundtrack of Adventureland, mostly songs of the ‘70s and ‘80s ranging from Lou Reed and David Bowie to Whitesnake and Judas Priest to The Replacements and The Cure, is so specific one senses the music came first and the story later. In other words, like the romance it depicts, it began with a mix tape.

James was supposed to go to Europe this summer as a graduation present from his parents (Wendie Malick and Jack Gilpin), but financial setbacks have canceled that plan. In fact, James will have to get a summer job if he still wants to go to grad school at Columbia in the fall.

Having "majored in Comparative Literature and Renaissance Studies," James is "not even qualified for manual labor." The best job he can find in Pittsburgh is operating sleazy carnival games at Adventureland amusement park, run by Bobby (Bill Hader) and his wife Paulette (Kristen Wiig).

James soon breaks the park's first commandment: "No one ever wins a giant-ass panda." He makes a new friend in geeky Joel (Martin Starr) and renews an association with obnoxious Frigo (Matt Bush), who used to be his best friend ("Then I turned four") and is always hitting him in the cojones.

More importantly, James meets two young women at Adventureland. Em (Twilight's Kristen Stewart) seems like the kind of girl he can get serious about, but unknown to him she's having an affair with married Connell (Ryan Reynolds), "the maintenance guy," whose claim to fame is that he supposedly once jammed with Lou Reed.

Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva) comes on like a sexpot, but it turns out she's just drawn that way. "I wouldn't mind going out with a nice guy for a change," she says. Levieva makes you believe she's got a big heart in her big chest, even though she acts like she just wants to have fun.

Perhaps the biggest problem with Adventureland is that Mottola is too forgiving of the people in his past. Connell may behave despicably toward women, but he tries to be a good friend to James.

Eisenberg is well cast as the kind of guy who will forgive everyone who's ever wronged him within 20 years. Girls will want to break him in and guys will want to be his wingman.

Adventureland is frank and definitely R-rated, but it makes no effort to out-raunch other films of its genre. It doesn't out-anything any of them. In the end it's a pretty typical coming-of-age movie, with a later bloomer than most. It's about the summer James/Greg will never forget, but you'll forget it as soon as the next movie like this comes along.#

1 comment

Jesse Eisenberg in his underwear--worth the $8?

I think the movie was written by an alcoholic. I know nothing of Greg Mottola, but I do know the signs. Everybody drinks. All the time. Young and old, parents, children, all their friends, neighbors, guests. A drink rewards a day's work. A drink is solace for emotional pain. A drink is both reward and succor. A drink is the catalyst of an ugly step-parent/child confrontation; putting their heads down and sipping their drinks is the refuge of the bystanders. Drinking is the life of every party. A girl swimming in underwear with her boyfriend leaves because "I want another drink." A date means going to a bar, or drinking at a disco. At a restaurant the question is "How's the wine?" (the girl sniffs the glass, rather than the wine.) A drink is hidden under a car's front seat, smuggled into a carnival ride, poured into a milkshake, sipped, gulped, slurped, sucked, and eventually vomited. Alcohol and dope, this movie says, are the food on which young people subsist.

As I think of it, the happy ending happens over a cup of--tea. I wonder if the writer knew he had done that. That is, portrayed alcohol as part of a sick world, and abstinence from it as the start of a healthy life.

Do not do as one father I saw did, and bring a 13 year old son. You will have to do some explaining about alcohol and drugs. Also, you will have to justify a liberal arts education when smart literary people can only find work at a carnival.