(This review contains minor spoilers because I don’t care enough about the movie to try to preserve any element of it for potential viewers.)
I didn’t like Adventureland when I walked out of the theater. The more I thought about it, the less I liked it until I finally came to the conclusion that I hated it.
This movie was obviously made by people with whom, on the surface, I have a lot in common. The main character, James Brennan (a charisma-free Jesse Eisenberg), and I share a love of the Velvet Underground, Big Star, the Replacements, and other eternally-cool (to record geeks anyway) touchstones. We both got degrees in literary-type stuff. We both find that those interests do not always translate well socially.
I hope that’s all we have in common, because if there’s anything else, I want my friends to stage an intervention immediately.
We begin with James graduating from college, and planning to go to grad school at Columbia in the fall. Unfortunately, his family is experiencing some financial hardships so he finds himself in the awful position of <gasp> having to get a job for the first time in his life. Completely unqualified for any real job, he is forced to take a position at a low-budget theme park.
You might think this is the setup for a young man learning the value of good old-fashioned hard work and coming to an understanding that he’s been a spoiled little shit his whole life. You would be wrong.
Instead, it is the setup for a ridiculous love triangle/rectangle/shape-of-some-sort. The very attractive Em Lewin (Kristen Stewart) throws herself at James within thirty seconds of meeting him his first day on the job for no apparent reason, although they quickly learn that they do have some things in common–music tastes, love of marijuana, and enjoyment of alcohol.
Complicating the love blossoming between these two losers is that Em is screwing Mike (Ryan Reynolds, who deserves better), the married maintenance guy for the park. It gets even more annoying when stereotypical hot-but-ditzy blonde Lisa P (Margarita Levieva) inexplicably decides she’d like a date with our lame-ass protagonist. At this point, I wouldn’t have cared if all of these characters had perished in a fiery auto crash.
Adventureland promotes an awful worldview. We’re supposed to like Em because she hates lawyers, rich people, and anyone with a real job. That she’s been nursing at the tit of productive members of society her entire life is an irony not explored by the filmmakers, because they support her view of things–in the world of the film and the creators’ fantasy land, this makes her real. With the exception of James and inveterate liar and cheating chronic pussy-hound Mike (who, for reasons known only to the filmmakers, the audience is encouraged to care about), everyone else in the movie is either a prick (lawyers, MBAs, stereotypical redneck types) or an idiot (every other character).
Particularly galling is the director’s cynical use of an excellent soundtrack to attempt to manipulate the audience into sympathizing with this preposterous and appalling view of the human race. When that cool college stuff is playing, you are supposed to like the character. You know a character is supposed to be an asshole if anything associated with metal is played on the soundtrack, mentioned by a character, or worn on a character’s t-shirt. If top forty music (circa 1987, when the movie takes place) is playing and the characters like it instead of bitching about it, that means they are shallow and dumb. Yes, you got that right–anyone who doesn’t share the main characters’ and filmmakers’ taste in music is either stupid, an asshole, or a stupid asshole. This is a movie by and about people who think they are open-minded but are anything but.
The end of the film finds Em in New York off to grad school (paid for by her hardworking father, who she denigrates and humiliates whenever given an opportunity). James, who can’t afford Columbia due to his family’s financial troubles and his own screw-ups, is off to New York as well. You might think that this means that he’s growing up, accepting responsibility, and getting on with his life. Nope–he’s chasing the psycho bitch whose presence we have been tormented with the entire movie.
Director Greg Mottola’s previous film, Superbad, was a comic gem that was touching because it gave us selfish, immature people who had a lot of goodness inside of them that bloomed as they learned some things about life, love, and friendship. He apparently doesn’t understand why Superbad worked, because he takes the shell of that coming-of-age story and fills it with selfish, immature people who don’t bloom and don’t learn anything except for the most superficial and obvious, and they don’t even learn much in those categories. It’s a vile little movie, more akin to Kids than Superbad, but that comparison isn’t fair–in Kids, the ugliness was intentional.
From the Soundtrack:
Judas Priest – “Breaking the Law” (because I don’t think liking metal makes you an asshole):
The Outfield – “Your Love” (because I don’t think liking pop music makes you shallow and dumb):
The Velvet Underground – “Pale Blue Eyes” (Liking this does not automatically make you a good person. Not liking this does not automatically make you a bad person.):