I complain a lot about the current state of cinema. I fear there are far too few movies that come along that brim with honesty and don't condescend to their audience. To keep things in perspective and reel it all in after seeing something crap, I tend to watch a film made in the 70's and some in the 80's to find those qualities sorely lacking in the modern. Thankfully it's not all a wash. Once and awhile there are films that manage to capture it's world and characters in such a way that makes my heart happy. Cynicism and irony are too easy, but a movie that can be both sweet-natured and honest without a lot of compromise. I'm in love.
Greg Motolla's ADVENTURELAND arrives at a time when I was starting to think cinema for this year was pretty bleak. The only other film I enjoyed so far has been "I LOVE YOU, MAN" as that film painted it's characters and their frustrations with the inability to connect with others very well in a very funny way while slyly satirizing our current culture's ease of falling into the mediocre. In some ways, it's as if the dissatisfied yet smart youths of ADVENTURELAND grew up and became the dissatisfied knowing adults in LOVE. Both films in their own ways brilliantly display the pain while remaining somewhat subtle and funny. It's that balancing act that's really hard to achieve because as a filmgoer you want to see something honest and personal, but you also want entertainment.
What ADVENTURELAND also does so well is paint it's time period of 1987 as one not just of nostalgia (which movies set in the 80's only seem to do) but rather it stays true to what the characters were feeling and going through of that moment. When we were of that age we weren't already fondly looking back at our past but rather we marching towards adulthood and the next chapter of our lives. This is the last summer for these kids as real life looms for them in the fall so change is inevitable. And for these kids it's something they need to work towards to desperately break away from the problems of their current situations. In a way, the theme park itself acts as a metaphor for that holding period in their lives, and you really sense the struggle it's lead character faces with having to work there to pay his way through school in New York, which also happens to be the destination of his romantic interest (What better place to work towards, eh?)
The film wisely grounds it's two romantic leads in a serious way, letting their subtleties provide the comedy while the supporting players crank it up with their unique and funny characterizations. Martin Starr's Joel nearly walks away with the film as he's both hilarious and heartbreaking in his portrayal of a nerd with a tender heart of glass.
The music is also another highlight of ADVENTURELAND as it deftly puts together tunes that we both fondly recall and those that we may have wanted to forget at the time as they got way too much play. You'll find an eclectic mix of Judas Priest, Husker Du, The Replacements, Falco, David Bowie, Mary Jane Girls, The Velvet Underground, Outfield, The Cure, Animotion, The New York Dolls and even some Whitesnake. Oh, and there's a fun dance scene with a character named "Lisa P." set to the tune of Shannon's Let The Music Play.
As it is, ADVENTURELAND is the best picture I've seen so far this year.
Not too far off was I LOVE YOU, MAN. Paul Rudd's knack for playing sarcasm to the hilt is put a bit on hold here in lieu of playing the straight man to Jason Segel's zany ways, but he manages to find very funny notes regardless. He has a very uncanny way of making you very uncomfortable with the way he slips his tongue as he tries to fit in with others to make friends and comes out with some really weird yet funny moments of word play.
I LOVE YOU, MAN is the kind of movie who's trailer puts it all upfront on what's in store and the comedy you'd expect, but manages to sneak in many other subtle funny and smart moments you wouldn't expect in the buddy comedy. The chemistry between the two leads in undeniable and even though the movie marches toward an inevitable climax, you walk away feeling happy and satisfied.
Thanks to the great jobs by the actors and the witty script, you get real insight into their world and the movie manages to poke fun at the dissatisfaction in our adult lives and how much we settle with what could be called mediocrity. These kinds of Buddy comedies exist to allow their characters to shake up their worlds and come out of their shells, but I haven't seen one in a long time that actually goes a step further to layer in the fact that we've become too accustomed with things that make our lives easier rather than things that stimulate us and allow us to grow. Last year's STEPBROTHERS tried to bring similar things to light but was a bit flattened by the zaniness of it all.
I LOVE YOU, MAN finds the right balance of comedy and smarts and I wanted to see it again after it was all over. That's the kind of movie I enjoy.