Sunday, April 12, 2009

Adventureland; I Love You, Man

Perhaps due to this recession-y time, or general periods of personal funk, and have therefore lapsed in finite criticizing. And so I ventured into the theater on two separate occasions to two separate R-rated comedies, and was not just pleased, but elated and joyous.

Adventureland is directed by Greg Mottola, who previously essayed the coming of age road two years ago in Superbad returns with an even stronger tale of youth ennui. Set in 1987, centering around recent college graduate James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), an intellectual type eagerly awaiting his summer tryst in Europe, when a recession of his own dashes that dream-- reshaping it into a summer job at a Pittsburgh amusement park. Lots of things happen in the film that one would expect-- drinking, pot, sex talk; but the secret to Adventureland (which so far has been sadly under-seen, judging by box office reports-- c'mon American public-- you can support trash like Fast & Furious and Hannah Montana, and gold like this too!) is there's plenty of stuff you wouldn't expect-- great acting from a witty and riotous ensemble, a nifty soundtrack that rivals Dazed & Confused on terms of wicked coolness, a gritty 80s lived-in visual palette, unexpected pathos, and a nicely modulated, minimalist performance from Kristen Stewart-- hopefully this film is atonement for Twilight.

And so the love (be it eternal or fleeting; time will tell) I have for Adventureland comes from the perception that I was expecting another Superbad, which isn't a bad thing necessarily, but received a teen comedy\art film hybrid. I can forgive some of the cliches because nothing in film plays like a cliche. Part of the that hangs on Eisenberg's leading performance-- he's playing a nerdy virgin, but he's in on the joke and it seems realistic that Stewart's Em (an appealing fellow amusement park Games person-- compared to flashier personnel in charge of the rides, called Riders) would dig his goofy charms, and his little joints. The friendship developed between James and fellow Gamer Joel (Martin Starr), a nerdy Jew who has an affinity for Russian literature, fell just as authenitc. As does the quirker mom and pop owners of the amusement park (played by SNL alum Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, sublime.) And back to the very divisive Stewart for a second, who plays a very singular screwed up young lady (a specialty), whose radiant in a slouchy, slacker kind of way, guided by a gifted director (whom I sadly underrated) expressing the skill I was quite fond of in Panic Room and Into the Wild.

I Love You, Man
is directed by John Hamburg, whose previous credits include Along Came Polly and the screenplays for the Meet the Parents features, and despite a Ben Stiller-ized ouvre that doesn't quite impress me, I definitely have some love for I Love You, Man. Much of that is due to the unmittigated pleasure in watching the relaxed breathy comedy stylings of Mr. Paul Rudd and Mr. Jason Segal. The simple story revolves around Rudd's Peter Klaven, a recently engaged male who after realizing he has never had a best friend goes on a quest to find one. After a string of bad "dates," including a full on gay one (played to nervous delight by Reno 911's Thomas Lennon), Peter meets his one in Sidney Pife (Jason Segal.) And again, as in Adventureland, romantic and buddy comedy cliches ensue, but it's freshly spun, so it never feels like part cogs in keeping the story going to inevitable happy ending.

The joy of the film the riffing between Rudd and Segal-- it's almost a battle for absurdist supremacy. A scene consistenting of little else but the two of them nicknaming each is easily on of the funniest parts of any movie in quite a while. And while the buddy bromance is fully the center, the film actually also works as a credible romantic comedy with Rashida Jones (daughter of Quincy) playing Peter's fiance. There's a natural report between the two of them. And also a grand commraderie between the entire gifted ensemble including Jane Curtin, Andy Samburg, J.K. Simmons, Jamie Pressley and Jon Favreau. I pretty much do indeed love you, man!

And so perhaps I've grown softer, or these Judd Apatow-ian comedies just jelled perfectly with me, either way, as long as fine specimens of American comedies like Adventureland and I Love You, Man keep entering the marketplace, all is well in movie land if you ask me.

Adventureland A-
I Love You, Man B+

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