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DVD Review: Adventureland

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“What was that? – It’s just my life.”

Set in the mid 1980s, director Greg Mottola brings you a nostalgic good time in this comedy-drama about summer work at a local amusement park, romance, future dreams…and Herman Melville. The New York retro amusement park Adventureland is a character itself, which Mottola constantly uses for transitions among the character scenes. Mottola filmed at Kennywood Park and the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area though the original Adventureland is located in Farmingdale, New York on Long Island.

This 107-minute gem features an aspiring grad student named James Brennan, well-played by rising star Jesse Eisenberg, who has big journalism plans for his future. Smart, sensitive and ready for the world…well, the world he’s envisioning.

After his academic future hits a financial snag, his new co-worker and growing love interest Em Lewin, played by red hot star Kristen Stewart, questions James’ plans. When James shares his plans with her in a key sequence at a local bar/restaurant, she says, “Journalism – why do you need grad school then?” Her practical sensibilities towards others helps her deflect her own issues, which mostly relate to her altered family life.

James continues opening up while Em suddenly seeks escape for a different reason (easily discovered if you pay attention). “You sure you want to go? That band is really awful,” quips James. It's a great sequence representing those memorable dates we have that change lives forever. Stewart has a mysterious, yet obviously strong screen presence full of natural emotions and real life appeal.

Ryan Reynolds plays a married/music star/maintenance worker named Mike. You never actually see Reynolds show his musical side in the film. But he has several rock-star stories to woo the women while offering advice to his male Adventureland co-workers like James, yet keeping himself at a high-status distance. “You kiddies have fun” he says to James after turning down their party invitation, which later reveals one of the film’s key relationships.

James’ friends range from the annoying Frigo, played by Matt Bush, to savvy school chum Eric, played by Michael Zegen, and insightful co-worker Joel, well played by Martin Starr who almost steals the show from Eisenberg. Joel gets more attention in the second half as James’ establishing scenarios and traits get first priority. More family background about Em would have built her character more, but filmmakers keep a good balance overall.

SNL comedians Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig play the park’s management team Bobby and Paulette as no-nonsense pros who take their jobs more seriously than they should. Their funny, yet natural comedic setups range from predictable customer disputes to sure fire management tips that not only produce laughs, but increase their relationship bond. Bobby’s take-charge attitude in a water-gun race helps Paulette remember why she’s with him in the first place. Their steadfast partnership isn’t taken for granted by either character, and the actors seem to enjoy a similar experience.

Jack Gilpin and Wendie Malick don’t have the same closeness as James’ parents. The filmmakers mainly focus on Mr. Brennan’s recent pay cut as the catalyst that initiates James’ amusement park employment.

The budding romantic relationship between James and Em naturally progresses through personal issues then hits a challenging crossroads after Em’s hesitation and a new love interest arrives at the park. Lisa P, played by Russian born Margarita Levieva, gets everyone’s attention as the worker/dancer at the focal fast car ride that relentlessly plays Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” all summer.

The above average film, strengthened by a great ending, effortlessly exudes a classic feeling with its retro soundtrack, including songs from Judas Priest, Whitesnake, Velvet Underground, The Cure, and INXS. The DVD includes a featurette, which interweaves memorable, wry skits among its segments  performed by the cast and crew, like a hilarious conflict-resolution training video. A commentary with Mottola and Eisenberg is available for the deleted scenes feature, as well as for the film. Rated R for language, drug use and sexual references. Also available on Blu-ray.

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