I hear a lot of guff today about Judd Apatow's supposed monopoly on comedy films. A trailer will come on, Apatow's name will be mentioned, or one of his usual cohorts like Seth Rogen or Michael Cera will appear, and groans are heard. "Oh, great"s and "Another one?"s emit from the crowd. I can name about ten comedies coming out this summer that have nothing to do with Judd Apatow. The thing is, the people that associate with him happen to be the funniest around right now. Did people complain when Bill Murray reigned over the comedy world? Possibly. But they shouldn't have.
Greg Mottola has directed his share of comedic ventures, including the mighty Superbad, and can quickly be traced back to the monopoly. But he's an entirely different beast. Adventureland, the second film both written and directed by Mottola, proves that he has a more intellectual streak than his contemporaries. A drier wit. References to Melville, Dickens, and Nikolai Gogol crop up unexpectedly. Lou Reed is revered as a sort of rock god. Of course all this happens to much mirth and merry-making for the audience.
Adventureland captures absolutely what it's like to be a socially conscious nerdy artistic-type growing up awkwardly in a big, confusing world. During 1987. James (Jesse Eisenberg) exudes a confidence that wavers, but doesn't falter, as he struggles to make the best of his pathetic amusement park job. He falls in love with Em (Kristen Stewart), a fellow carny, and is met with devastating emotional turmoil as he juggles friendships, romance, drug abuse, and paying for graduate school.
Mottola's direction is something to behold. Small mannerisms are added to otherwise traditional performances, bringing out the humanity in the characters that make them worth caring about. The otherwise trivial problems in their lives become dire with Mottola's directing, and superb acting from the entire cast. I say this knowing Kristen Stewart is a part of it, and although I normally find her to be a mild annoyance in most films she didn't do anything to hurt this story, and I'm letting her slide on this one.
The writing feels like it arrives through a strong understanding of coming-of-age-hood. I've read that much of Adventureland came out of Greg Mottola's personal experiences as a teen and twenty-something and the painfully awkward moments, and general growth of character personalities speak to this. Though it has less laugh-out-loud moments than predecessor Superbad, it carries as much reality and heart, and hits at a higher level of drama effectively enough to make the absence of laughter appropriate.
The moral: Adventureland is going to be amongst my favorite films of 2009. Hold me to it. I can owe you money if I retract that statement.
- Eric T. Voigt