After the rousing success of Superbad, it didn’t take long for director Greg Mottola to come out with this follow up…which was a decidedly much different film than the previous raunch fest that many classified Superbad as. Adventureland was instead a much more mellow, coming of age story that takes place in the summer of 1987. With upcoming star Jesse Eisenberg in the lead and Twilight star Kristen Stewart co-starring, the film certainly wasn’t without a certain amount of star power, yet the well received film went on to gross under $20 million worldwide. Even more surprising is that this film was touted as a kind of hilarious follow up from the director of Superbad, when, in fact, it was a much more somber and less gut busting outing.
When James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) has to cancel his dream summer vacation and make some money for grad school, the only job he can get is at Adventureland, a tacky amusement park where the games are rigged and the rides make you hurl. But it’s where he meets Em (Kristen Stewart, Twilight), and his rollercoaster ride to nowhere turns into the best summer ever. Filled with a carnival of colorful characters and set to a killer soundtrack, Adventureland is ”the kind of adventure we could all use more of” (Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times).
I could tell from the previews for the film that it wasn’t going to be the hilarious, joke a minute outing that it was advertised as being…but I had no idea it was going to be this serious. I certainly laughed at every one of the jokes offered up in the film, but as entertaining as Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are the majority of the film really was just slightly depressing real life issues and/or relationship antics that take up the better part of the films 107 minute run time. Not faulting the film for this, of course; it’s obvious that this is what it was meant to be from the start, but when Superbad is paired in reference to this film, you automatically think of humor. In fact, the comedy genre is probably the third or fourth category I’d put this one in, as it is first and foremost a drama and a relationship movie first before anything else.
Really I could compare this film closer to something like Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, although Adventureland is still about twenty times more serious than that film. I’m not entirely sure why this film is so damn serious all the time and it can almost be a drag; as convincing and realistic as it is, all that teen angst and whatnot can just really grate on ones nerves. Not to mention Stewart’s constant playing of her hair is…incredibly distracting and annoying at times. I wanted nothing more than to relate with the cast in this film, which is usually pretty easy to do with these “coming of age” comedies, but everyone was either just overreacting or incredibly selfish to the point where it was hard to empathize with anyone. Even our lead was kind of a pain with his parents, being needlessly rude to his father despite his father obviously having a rough time with his own recent fall from grace.
But those elements do fade away in the overall course of the film. Like a lot of the films Jesse Eisenberg is in, this is largely a character piece and it’s because of this that the film does at least have a memorable cast of characters. Even Ryan Reynolds brief on-screen time stands out, as does Martin Starr and the aforementioned Hader and Wiig pairings. Margarita Levieva also was nice to see, as she kind of disappeared after her short lived Fox TV series and that highly disappointing The Invisible film she was in.
Overall as moderately entertaining as this film was, I’m more surprised by my lack of lasting enjoyment more than anything. By the time I’d finished watching the film with the commentary I already felt like I’d never need to see it again; it’s definitely a film that’s Recommended for one viewing, but anymore than that…I just don’t know. It’s definitely a nice story and with fantastic actors, but one viewing will likely be enough for you.
Buena Vista brings the film to DVD in a standard Elite Blu-ray case with a cardboard slipcover on top of it. It’s also deceptively badged with an “Unrated Bonus Features” label, making one believe that the film itself is unrated due to the huge font. Inside the case is the film disc itself as well as the digital copy disc (with very boring gold finish and a whole load of text) and inserts for the digital copy redemption as well as the Miramax Insider code and an advertisement for the Blu-ray format.
Video arrives in the form of an AVC encoded transfer that has me severely confused as to what it should really look like. No doubt the film was meant to look like something from the late 80s, but at the same time it’s a very distracting transfer as there is all kinds of noise and murky blacks that don’t feel altogether natural. At the same time I can’t really fault the transfer for looking this way as it’s too consistent in these “flaws” to not be intentional. So having said that…I find it rather difficult to complain too much about this transfer, as it was no doubt meant to look this way for the most part. Still, for what it’s worth there is a great deal of detail to glean from the transfer…it’s just usually behind a layer of grain.
Audio is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that is felt most with the films diverse audio soundtrack more than anything. There are carnival ride sounds to fill in the surrounds, sure, but most of the dialogue is front and center so there isn’t a whole lot of diversity within the sound mix itself. For the most part it’s a mix you’ll forget about until memories of the films soundtrack rises up then you’ll be reminded of how much it floods the speakers with sound…only to retreat again once the dialogue takes center stage (literally).
Extras are varied and include:
• Deleted Scenes – With optional audio commentary by writer and director Greg Mottola
• Audio Commentary – With writer/director Greg Mottola and actor Jesse Eisenberg
• Just My Life: The Making Of Adventureland – Director and writer Greg Mottola sits down to reveal how his real life experiences helped inspire his unique comic vision for Daytrippers, Superbad, Arrested Development and now Adventureland. Cast members Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds, Bill Hader, and Martin Starr also talk candidly about what shaped them into who they are today, including the worst job they ever had.
• Picture Music Selection
• Frigo’s Ball Tap – The “drive by,” the “ambush,” the “stranger,” the “tying of the shoe” and the knee-buckling, tear-inducing “Bangkok” are just a few of the nad numbing moves demonstrated by the testicle tapping guru himself, Matt Bush.
• Lisa P’s Guide To Style – Ms. “Rides, Rides, Rides” herself, Lisa P (Margarita Levieva), shares her totally hip, totally ‘80s fashion advice from spiral locks to neon pink nail polish.
• Welcome to Adventureland – Fans can learn all there is to know about the Adventureland amusement park with a pair commercials, the employee orientation kit and a peek at the official drug policy.
The descriptions above are provided by the studio and take almost longer to read than the featurettes take to watch. The Blu-ray exlcusive features (the last three on the list) are all two to three minutes long, with the longest extra mentioned above being the “Making Of”, coming in at seventeen minutes or so. It’s a decent extra, but really all of the extras can be tossed out and forgotten about, aside from the commentary track. While I did feel as if I didn’t want to watch the film again after listening to the commentary that really has to do with how much fun the commentary itself was to listen to. The pair is constantly cracking jokes and reminiscing about on-set details and antics and I honestly found the track a much more enjoyable listen than the film itself…which isn’t really saying much considering the film can be a bit of a downer.
While no doubt the film is a personal outing for director and writer Greg Mottola, I’m just limited by how much I can enjoy the film purely because you rarely find yourself actually enjoying the film. It was good for what it was and the flaws of the film are also what make it the film it is, so it is unfortunately very hard to dissect the film. Everything in it works, it just has a little too much drama to be something that you could easily pick up and watch again and again. As mentioned previously the film is Recommended for at least one viewing, but this Blu-ray is a mere Rental. The extras are rather disappointing, commentary notwithstanding, and there isn’t anything about the audio or video transfer that will make you want to add it to your collection.
Adventureland arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on August 25th.