When the Velvet Underground’s “Here She Comes Now” started playing during Adventureland, I perked up. I thought, “Here is a smart movie, one aware of Lou Reed’s darkly soulful lyrics. When I realized that my favorite Velvet Underground song, “Pale Blue Eyes,” was going to underscore this tale of young 20-something romance, a smile appeared on my face and never left.
“Sometimes I feel so happy/ Sometimes I feel so sad/ Sometimes I feel so happy/ But mostly you just make me mad…Linger on your pale blue eyes.”
Adventureland follows the up-and-down romance between James (Jesse Eisenberg) and Em (Kristen Stewart) who work together at a Pittsburgh amusement park during the Summer of ‘87. When they first meet, he’s working a horse-race game, giving his best effort to make the sad affair feel like the Kentucky Derby, handing out stuffed animals to the winners. She watches, amused, attracted. From the first moment James catches Em’s arresting eyes, he’s smitten.
I first noticed Eisenberg last year in the sadly over-looked The Squid and the Whale. Here, he plays a kissing cousin to that film’s well-educated, literary-minded young man, short on girl knowledge, long on familiarity with Moby Dick, and struggling to find a place in the world in spite of both.
I only knew Kristen Stewart -– like most everyone –- from Twilight. Em is a much richer character for her. Where Bella suffered from a poverty of problems and conflicts, Em has a surplus. She hates her step-mom. She is having an affair with the amusement park’s mechanic, Mike (Ryan Reynolds), a married man. And there’s unspecified other pain, hidden behind her Lou Reed t-shirt, signified by David Bowie’s “Aladdin Sane” poster on her bedroom wall.
Unimpressed by Twilight, I’m now a member of the Stewart fan club. Her work with Eisenberg is casual, warm, natural, and understatedly sexy. We understand their relationship in that “we want every moment to last forever but we can’t wait to get to the next” sort of way. When she drives him home and he sits sideways in his seat –- unable to take his eyes off of her –- and “Pale Blue Eyes” is softly playing, we are as anxious to find a quiet place to share their first kiss as they are.
“Thought of you as my mountain top/ Thought of you as my peak/ I thought of you as everything/ I’ve had but couldn’t keep…Linger on your pale blue eyes.”
Em is torn. She considers James the best guy she’s ever met and the fear of losing him is unbearable. And yet, when she learns of his love for her, she recoils. We understand her problems with her dad’s new wife. We can see how to end the affair with Mike as clearly as she can. But, it’s those unspecified problems –- hiding behind her Lou Reed fixation –- that continue to haunt her, and us.
It was a brilliant move by writer/director Greg Mottola (Superbad) to leave what’s truly devouring Em a mystery. It makes her fascinating, real. She reminded me of one of my own past infatuations. When I got too close, she told me, “Stay away. I have problems you can’t imagine.” Em speaks almost those very words to James as he starts to say, “I love you.”
Em is a dream for James. She must seem as fascinating as his most beloved literary heroines. He’s a romantic who reads poetry for pleasure, just what she needs. When he selects “Pale Blue Eyes” from a jukebox in a moment of sadness, we know he’ll continue to pursue her –- until she finally outruns “Lou Reed.”