When "Adventureland" made its UK debut at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in June of 2009 there was a fair amount of hype surrounding it and, in fact, it sold out meaning that I didn't manage to see it. When it had its theatrical release in September it seemed to pass me by and I didn't really give it much more thought. That's not normally a good sign for a film. However catching it now after the initial hype had passed by has been, I think, a good thing. I seem to remember much being made of the films connections to Judd Appatow (director Greg Mottola is from the Appatow "stable") and that may have played a part in my decision not to go and see it.
However, in much the same way that the decision to market "Slumdog Millionaire" as a "feel good" movie did that film a disservice, so too was the decision to market this as a sort of 1980's "Superbad". Far from being a vulgar teen "comedy" this was a really charming film which has a real ring of truth to it. None of the characters have the feeling of being young people talking in the way that adults think young people talk but rather they look, sound and behave in the way that young people do. That's a major achievement and one not to be sniffed at.
The plot is classic and simple...boy meets girl, boy and girl smooch a bit, some awkward moments follow and in between a whole range of weird and wonderful (sometimes at the same time) characters do a whole series of weird and wonderful things. All of this happens in the confines of the eponymous "Adventureland" a run down amusement park where the rides are dangerous, the games are fixed and the owner is mad.
Where some films that could, mistakenly, be lumped in with "Adventureland" lack any emotional depth here, at times, there are moments that place a lump in your throat and bring a tear to your eye. It's not easy to make comedy that also has emotional weight and Mottola has done a magnificent job in creating a film that makes you laugh and feel at the same time. Much credit for that has to go to to Jesse Eisenberg (who was also wonderful in "The Squid and the Whale" and "Zombieland") and Kristen Stewart (star of the hideously empty "Twilight" films) who both give really convincing performances as James and Em...the two intelligent, awkward and confused college bound lovers at the heart of the film.
What is perhaps interesting, in retrospect, about "Adventureland" was the fact that it enjoyed its release at the same time as "Fish Tank" (which also had a debut at the EIFF) and both of these films tell the story of awkward, confused teenagers but in wildly different ways...each of them gloriously, fabulously honest. It would make an interesting double-bill...one film showing the awful, ugly truth of life in modern, housing estate Britain in the darkest of ways while the other shows the magical, awkward, myth of teenage love in the most colourful of ways.
This was an unexpected delight and a film I'm really glad that I eventually made my way to.