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Adventureland DVD Review

Adventureland movie poster Adventureland

Theatrical Release: April 3, 2009 / Running Time: 107 Minutes / Rating: R / songs

Writer/Director: Greg Mottola

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg (James Brennan), Kristen Stewart (Emily "Em" Lewin), Ryan Reynolds (Mike Connell), Martin Starr (Joel), Bill Hader (Bobby), Kristen Wiig (Paulette), Margarita Levieva (Lisa P.), Jack Gilpin (Mr. Brennan), Wendie Malick (Mrs. Brennan), Matt Bush (Tommy Frigo), Josh Pais (Mr. Lewin), Mary Birdsong (Francy), Paige Howard (Sue O'Malley), Dan Bittner (Pete O'Malley), Michael Zegen (Eric), Stephen Mast (Rich), Barrett Hackney (Munch), Kevin Breznahan (Molly Hatchet T-Shirt Guy), Vanessa Wanger (Ronnie Connell), Kelsey Ford (Arlene)

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The movie is called Adventureland after the amusement park it prominently features, but Fantasyland may have been a more appropriate title. It's not that this comedy-drama helmed by Superbad director Greg Mottola ignores reality. In fact, real-world concerns are a running motif.
It's just that they along with everything else in this nostalgic film seem a bit too idyllic.

It is 1987. Nerdy James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg, The Squid and the Whale) has just graduated from college and is looking forward to a summer abroad before starting to work towards a master's in journalism at Columbia University. But, while going over a precise and minor funds calculation issue at a dinner meant to celebrate his commencement, James' parents (Wendie Malick, Jack Gilpin) inform him that his plans have changed and he'll now need to get a job to pay for more of his future.

With little previous work experience and an academic record that no one cares about, James settles for a summer at Adventureland, an inelegant local amusement park. Immediately hired by the site's ineffectual manager (Bill Hader) and then shown the attractions' money-making deceptions, James takes his place in a horse race game booth. The work is uninspiring, but the colleagues are all right, especially compared to Frigo (Matt Bush), the crotch-punching childhood chum who referred James.

Instead of spending the summer in Europe, James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) becomes an amusement park employee at Pittsburgh's Adventureland. Look out, Edward Cullen. Bella (Kristen Stewart) has eyes for a good old mortal or two as NYU student/games operator Em Lewin.

James finds a friend in the sympathetic Joel (Martin Starr) and something even better in Em (Twilight's Kristen Stewart), who shares James' appreciations for marijuana and moody rock. Effortlessly, a romance blossoms between James and Em, although she has more emotional baggage than the parental frustrations she discloses. In secret she is sleeping with Connell (Ryan Reynolds), a married ride maintenance man and halfhearted musician that everyone around Adventureland, James included, seems to admire.

Another employee admired for more physical reasons, Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva, The Invisible), makes an unexpected return. Because this is a movie and, as already mentioned, an idyllic one,
the soft-spoken virgin who has already wowed one pretty girl with his Dickensian reporting ambitions also wins the attentions of Lisa P. Instead of playing up this love quadrangle, the film uses it and the gossip it breeds to threaten the James-Em relationship we recognize as most serious. Conflicts arise, but feeling like autobiographical experiences filtered through twenty years of adulthood, none strikes us as being too pressing or upsetting.

It will surprise some viewers that the late 1980s can already be mined so extensively and tastefully for nostalgia, but Adventureland proves they can be. The film has overwhelming affection for its period: the music, the fashions, the simplicity. They're not put on parade for camp value or cheap thrills, but to enhance the setting of this evidently personal coming-of-age tale.

The glorified era contributes much to the film's appeal, but it does not upstage the story and characters it's merely supposed to support. One can easily find welcome substance and depth to the plot and personalities, but maybe just a bit less than Mottola intended. In contrast to the marketing, the drama does overshadow the comedy, which is more of the quirky independent cinema type than the raunchy gut-busters of Mottola's previous hit. Certain moments play choppily and some turns register as either manufactured or false. The glamorized use of pot (and to a lesser degree, alcohol) feels more like a ploy to be cool than true to these youths. But there is enough intelligence and wistfulness to stay invested throughout and to care about at least the more fully-realized figures.

Adventureland Junior Manager Bobby (Bill Hader) snarls his mustache while he and Paulette (Kristen Wiig) decide what to do with a corn dog delivery that's been unrefrigerated for a day. James' (Jesse Eisenberg) date with the turquoise-blazered Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva) gets an unexpected visit from a certain crotch-punching rides operator named Frigo.

Jesse Eisenberg carries with him a thoughtfulness lacking from many a young protagonist. It helps us identify with his lead even as the character remains oblivious to his spectacular strokes of luck. As his leading lady, Kristen Stewart relies a bit too heavily on the angsty air she's also applying liberally to Bella Swan. Stewart plays some key moments right, but at times Em is a cipher.

The supporting cast generally capitalizes upon limited opportunities. Starr isn't far removed from his winning "Freaks and Geeks" character (the film's timing even works out so that this could be post-college Bill Haverchuck relocated to Pittsburgh). Four-season "Saturday Night Live" veterans Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig seem appreciative of the better writing they have here.
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Playing off one another as a married couple, the two make good use of their props (his mustache, her mom jeans) and Hader scores some of the film's biggest laughs. (Both are reteaming with Mottola on his next project, the Simon Pegg/Nick Frost/Seth Rogen alien road trip comedy Paul, which sounds destined to be one of 2010's best.)

Even in just a couple of short scenes, actors Wendie Malick, Jack Gilpin, Mary Birdsong, and Josh Pais are so convincing as parents as to aptly convey the domestic issues plaguing our young leads.

Adventureland didn't set the box office ablaze like Superbad, but then that 2007 film was one of the few R-rated, youth-populated films to put up big numbers.

Buy Adventureland on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: August 25, 2009
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Black Keepcase
Also available on Blu-ray Disc
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On DVD, Adventureland is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. Both are satisfactory if not quite remarkable. From Frigo's headband and wristbands to Lisa P.'s tights, 1980s styles are on full display, although per the film's design, the decade's bright colors aren't as vibrant as you might expect, especially in an amusement park setting. The lightly grained picture appears to be a deliberate choice. The soundtrack's most prominent feature is '80s music, which it is chockfull of. The cover art mentions David Bowie, The Cure, INXS, and Lou Reed. That barely scrapes the surface (we've got the full list in order of appearance at the bottom of this review), but gives a good idea of the film's musical sensibilities. Reed, in particular, is practically a character here from his role in T-shirts and tall tales.

Pipe-smoking games operator Joel (Martin Starr of "Freaks and Geeks") explains how to resolve conflict peacefully in a clip seen briefly in "Just My Life: The Making of 'Adventureland'" and probably displayed in full on the Blu-ray. Paulette (Kristen Wiig) and Bobby (Bill Hader) take a break from banana prize construction to hear a grandfather's grievance in this deleted scene. The bonus features menu displays a loop of spirited workplace dancing by Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva).


Most of Adventureland's bonus features are exclusive to its Blu-ray release, but three also appear on the DVD.

"Just My Life: The Making of Adventureland" (16:25) gives us a good overview of production. Cast and crew interview clips discuss the story, characters, and actors, while we also get some behind-the-scenes B-roll and outtakes.
Many of the comments focus on the period setting and what it entailed for locations and wardrobe. Although it feels a little contracted, this is about as good a companion piece as you could hope for.

Three short deleted scenes (2:13) are offered. The first two let Hader and Wiig deal with a disorderly mother and a disgruntled grandfather, respectively, visiting their office. The third is a more plot-oriented scene between Jesse Eisenberg and Ryan Reynolds. The footage is joined by commentary with writer/director Greg Mottola (who explains the cuts) and Eisenberg (who mainly listens).

Mottola and Eisenberg also provide an audio commentary on the entire film. Though laid-back and sarcastic, they are serious about the film and informative about its production. Among the topics most discussed are the limitations of a low budget, scene shuffles done in editing, attempting to clear music, minor goofs, and how Mottola's director's cut would be shorter. They trade some barbs and occasionally amuse, but the track is a little underwhelming for a film as good and personal as this one.

Strangely, the movie's home video covers strongly tout "UNRATED Bonus Features", yet on DVD at least the supplemental content isn't any racier than the film. It's not like bonus features are ever rated or that such a claim is apt to push someone on the fence towards buying. Anyhow, unrated though it may be, the commentary isn't uncensored. Some names are bleeped out early on.

An Easter egg can be accessed from the DVD's main menu. Your reward for finding it is much like an Adventureland prize, only virtual. Another one is found on the bonus features menu and it features an amusing 1-minute clip of Ryan Reynolds in-character wooing a slightly older demographic with a story about jamming with a different generation's musical legend.

Opening the DVD are trailers for Extract and American Son, general promos for Miramax Films and Blu-ray, and an anti-tobacco spot. The Sneak Peeks menu adds previews for 10 Things I Hate About You: 10th Anniversary Special Edition, Cheri, The Proposal, "Samantha Who?": The Complete Second Season, "Life on Mars": The Complete Series, and "Lost": The Complete Fifth Season.

The main menu conveys the charm of the film's period setting with stop-motion shirt wrinkles around a routine montage. In a nice touch, prominently-featured songs are given their own chapter titles. In-case inserts promote Blu-ray and Miramax's Insider Program.

Hey now, hey now, don't dream it's over. Crowded House's most famous song plays as Em (Kristen Stewart), Joel (Martin Starr), and James (Jesse Eisenberg) look up at the Fourth of July fireworks in the sky. Ride maintenance guy Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds) dispatches wisdom to receptive younger Adventureland workers like James.


Adventureland looks and sounds like a 1980s movie, but its distance from that time period gives it more cinematic polish and insight into the coming-of-age story's meaning.
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It delivers some laughs and a few poignant moments, but what you're most likely to remember is how thoroughly the setting is recreated. The romanticized portrayal of becoming an adult twenty years ago will undoubtedly be more appreciated by some viewers than others, but anyone who's looking for more than a raunchy laughfest should come away at least somewhat satisfied.

It is unfortunate that Disney has kept most of the bonus features exclusive to Blu-ray, especially since the extra content sounds promising and this isn't a film that screams "must-see in high-def." Those wanting all the bells and whistles also have to pay for a digital copy disc, whether they redeem it or not, since the studio has factored it into the "2-disc" Blu-ray's $45 list price. Those choices leave neither option a clear winner and so you might be better off just renting the movie or waiting for the inevitable price drop.

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Adventureland Songs List: The Replacements - "Bastards of Young", Civilian Fun Group - "West Beirut", The Velvet Underground - "Here She Comes Now", Daniel May - "Down to Rio", Bob Stuhmer - "Funiculi, Funicula", David Bowie - "Modern Love", Falco - "Rock Me Amadeus", Hüsker Dü - "Don't Want to Know if You are Lonely", New York Dolls - "Looking for a Kiss", Civilian Fun Group - "Pleasure Dog",
Big Star - "I'm in Love with a Girl", The Jesus and Mary Chain - "Taste of Cindy" (Acoustic Version), The Rolling Stones - "Tops", The Velvet Underground - "Pale Blue Eyes", Nick Lowe - "So It Goes", Rodney Saulsberry - "I Need to Know", Shannon - "Let the Music Play", Crowded House - "Don't Dream It's Over", Poison - "I Want Action", Lou Reed - "Satellite of Love", Animotion - "Obsession", Exposé - "Point of No Return", Jamison Rotz - "Girls in the City", Chris Carlisle - "Just One Girl", Outfield - "Your Love", Bob Stuhmer - "America the Beautiful", Black Swan Lake - "In the Ether", The Cure - "Just Like Heaven", Judas Priest - "Breaking the Law", Wang Chung - "Dance Hall Days", Bob Stuhmer - "Waltz of the Flowers", Sarah Taylor - "What Do You Got Against Love", Mary Jane Girls - "In My House", Rob E C - "Hearts Collide", Barrett Hackney - "Limelight" (Rush cover), Whitesnake - "Here I Go Again", Bob Stuhmer - "American Patrol March", The Replacements - "Unsatisfied", INXS - "Don't Change", Brian Kenney & Ian Berkowitz - "Adventureland Theme Song", Yo La Tengo - "Farewell Adventureland"

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Reviewed August 30, 2009.

Text copyright 2009 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2009 Miramax Films, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, This is That Productions, and Buena Vista Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.