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Miramax has returned to its heyday of nurturing relevant indies (“Pulp Fiction,” “Clerks”) in its choice to distribute the cleverly named This is That Productions’ “Adventureland,” an instant classic by writer/director Greg Mottola (“The Daytrippers”).
Mr. Mottola has fashioned a young-adult-coming-of-age piece, disguised as a teen comedy, that fuses the best of what both genres have to offer. It is a less surreal version of “The Graduate,” with some of the raunchiness of a Judd Apatow production mixed with the geeks and beauties of a John Hughes film. While “Adventureland” finds laughs with drunken party moments derived from, say, “Sixteen Candles,” present also in the film’s young adults is a repressed anger at inept and dysfunctional parenting. This anger boils over in moments of intense honesty, as when Cameron destroys his father’s Porsche in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” or Ben steals his love from the evil clutches of marriage and adulthood in “The Graduate.”
These people do not know, or care, where they are going, just as long as it is far away from home.
Mr. Mottola wrote the semiautobiographical “Adventureland” in response to his days working in an East Coast carnival theme park of the same name. The film is set in Pittsburgh in the summer of 1987, in a thankless, terribly compensated centrifuge of a workplace that separates those who have given up on their dreams (they return year after year) and those who refuse to accept that this is all life has to offer (they quit).
Recent college graduate James Brennan (the immensely talented Jesse Eisenberg of “The Squid and the Whale”) returns home to find his possibly alcoholic father demoted, which squashes James’ planned European trip. An arduous job search has him second-guessing his degree in Comparative Literature and Renaissance Studies, and he ultimately ends up as a “Games” worker at Adventureland, a dissonant workplace filled with discontented employees.
While the usual misfits of the genre show up, Mr. Mottola fleshes most of them out, and the pitch-perfect casting extends to the maintenance man and failed musician who cheats on his wife and lies about his past (Ryan Reynolds), the vapid bombshell that everyone assumes is promiscuous (Margarita Levieva), the kid who still thinks high school never ended (Matt Bush) and Joel (Martin Starr in a superb performance), the sardonic, Russian literature-loving epitome of awkwardness.
Most impressive is “Twilight” megastar Kristen Stewart as Em, the forgotten child whose destructive choices sabotage her intellect and spirit. It is rare, in a film such as this, that the chemistry between the two leads is as affecting and rousing as it is here. Stewart and Eisenberg create a nostalgia for the days when watching the burst of fireworks and making out on your parents’ couch were a better buzz than smoking a joint or getting drunk (although there’s plenty of that here, too).
As a child of the ’80s, the eclectic soundtrack, noting everything from overplayed pop (Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus”), new wave (The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven”) and hair metal (Poison, Whitesnake), took me back to a time before responsibility and mortgage payments. Interestingly, Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground punctuate the moments of pure poignancy. Mottola recognizes that, although each place and time is highlighted by its own style and art, the old favorites still ring true, and although “Adventureland” is set in the ’80s, the period between childhood and making it on our own is timeless, forever wrought with trauma and an unforgettable resonance.
Rated R for language, drug use
and sexual references.