Thursday, September 03, 2009

Adventureland: Ambition Pretty Much Justified

Once again, Yer actual Keith Telly Topping - briefly - becomes Keith Movies Topping as he got the short straw in The Afternoon Show office to attend the press showing of Adventureland this morning. The surprising news is that, much against his own preconceptions, he quite liked it!

I must admit when I was given this gig - and I discovered that the film I was going to see was was the latest movie by Greg Mottola (who made the spectacularly rotten, if unexpectedly successful, Superbad in 2007) I was expecting the very worst. Because, if there's one film genre that Keith Telly Topping successfully grew out of twenty five years ago, it's the 'eighties-teen-sex-comedy-coming-of-age' movie. Yet, Adventureland is something really rather curious - an eighties-teen-sex-comedy-coming-of-age-pastiche (made twenty years after The Breakfast Club and ten years after American Pie) that has ambitions to be something greater. And, one without much actual sex in it, either. Premiere magazine described it thus: 'Adventureland is Superbad, but with heart and honest feeling ... and less penis jokes.'

The first thing to note about the film is that - since it's set in the 1980s (and, worse than that, the John Hughes-created Hollywood 1980s of The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink). Therefore, it's full of everything which you'd expect and shudder over in terms of taste. Really bad big-hair, terrible clothes, trowel-layer social comment and some atrocious - laboured - sexual politics. That's the bad stuff out of the way, and it sort of goes with the territory. But, the film is also seemingly aware of all that and, thus, appears to see itself as a necessary comment on the era and its many flaws. (The moment when one of the characters is lying on her bed watching a performance by Whitesnake on TV with a disgruntled look on her face is evidence of that.)

The plot is quite straightforward: It's the summer of 1987 and James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), a likable, nerdy, and very smart high school graduate who wants to become a writer, can't wait to embark on his dream tour of Europe with friends before starting university in the fall. But when his parents (Wendie Malick and Jack Gilpin) announce they can no longer subsidise his trip, James has little choice but to take a low-paid job at a Pittsburgh amusement park (the titular Adventureland) to pay for his forthcoming, education. James' summer will now be populated by belligerent rednecks, stuffed pandas, screaming brats high on candyfloss and a bunch of co-workers who just aren't on the same intellectual plane as he. Luckily for James, what should have been the worst summer of his life turns into an adventure in growing up as he discovers love in the most unlikely place with his captivating co-worker Emily (Twilight's Kristen Stewart). Eisenberg and Stewart are absolutely terrific in the leads, as is Martin Starr as their deep-thinking friend, Joel. Elsewhere, the film stars no one that you'll have ever heard of but has lots of amiable, dryly comic performances from its mostly young cast. Mottola, who also wrote the script, keeps the plot rolling along with a nice use of broad, sometimes obviously but seldom tasteless, comedy moments between several more thoughtful and introspective passages. Best of all, Adventureland has a quite superb soundtrack, including songs by The Velvet Underground, Bowie, Nick Lowe, The Jesus & Mary Chain, The Cure, Hüsker Dü and Big Star - genuinely not the sort of stuff you'd expect from such a period piece and such a genre. Considered a minor flop on its release in the US earlier in the year, Adventureland opens in the UK on 11 September. If you're off to the pictures next week but you think you mightn't quite have the stomach for Inglourious Basterds you could do a lot worse than this amiable, and in places genuinely sweet, little movie.