Saturday, April 11, 2009

Jessie Eisenberg does a dead-on Alvy Singer channeled through Bob Newhart. After three movies (Romper Stomper and the superior The Squid and the Whale are the other two), of his schtick, he's found new wrinkles, and although Adventureland has his best performance yet, I can see a time when, like Michael Cera in writer-director Greg Mottola's last movie Superbad, his originality may harden into caricature. For now it's a treat watching him interact with an actress as alive to gesture and response as Kristin Stewart (without makeup she looks a bit like a young Helena Bonham Carter). Even with the all-too-wet ending (literally: there's sensitive emoting in the rain), I suspect that Stewart will, like Annie Hall, wise up to Eisenberg's routine and dump his ass.

As for the rest of Adventureland, its slightness and lack of tension is a slight letdown after the subcurrents beneath the post-Meatballs machinations of Superbad. Mottola has a talent for catching peripheral beauty: there's a lovely scene between Eisenberg and Stewart in a kind of graveyard for amusement park parts shot with the light of dusk as gray, cheerless, and familiar as the weed the two smoke. The rhythms feel genuine too; we've all had jobs in the service sector that allowed too much downtime and not enough stress to take home, therefore allowing us time to get drunk and high at after work parties. I expected a familiar payoff between Eisenberg and his jowly, depressed dad that thankfully never came. Most of the cast seems way too young for college graduates, though (except Ryan Reynolds, who has the kind of doughy plasticine looks and wardrobe that can get him cast as Matthew McConoughey Dazed & Confused-style lecher-slacker if he's not careful). But I can't be the only one who expected Martin Starr to admit to a crush on Eisenberg instead of Stewart; the behind-the-beat detachment he projects from behind those owlish glasses also flashes self-loathing.

If I started looking at my watch too often past the 75-minute mark, blame my taste in music: no Big Star studio album runs 106 minutes. This is the problem when writing the kind of movies inspired by your favorite albums; the evanescence of perfect pop doesn't require the concentration of film watching. Mottola pats himself on the back with the kind of musical (these late eighties post-graduates listen to Husker Du, the Replacements, and the New York Dolls) and literary (Starr gives the amusement park's resident Hot Girl a dog-eared copy of The Overcoat) cues designed to make an audience applaud. It's axiomatic that all indie and quasi-indie films will advertise their cool soundtracks. But I don't want my tastes gratified.

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