WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Set waaaaaay back in 1987 Adventureland revolves around the still virginal James Brennan a smart college grad whose dashed European vacation plans and career desperation lead him to take a summer job running games and handing out crummy stuffed animals at a Z-grade amusement park. It’s there that he falls hard for his colleague Em a pretty but emotionally confused girl who is having a secret affair with older-married-guy Mike Connell an aspiring musician and the park’s resident handyman. Over the course of the summer the employees of this pathetic Disneyland party hard smoke weed and most importantly learn about love and relationships while being forced to hear “Rock Me Amadeus” played continuously on the park’s piped-in music system.
WHO’S IN IT?
The whole cast is superb led by Jesse Eisenberg (The Squid and the Whale The Education of Charlie Banks) who is simply terrific in a breakthrough performance that proves Michael Cera is not the ONLY one who can play nerdy-but-thoughtful young guys trying to navigate their life’s path down the winding road of uncertainty. Eisenberg as James deftly manages writer/director Greg Mottola’s (Superbad) droll dialogue with effortless timing and delivery. Kristen Stewart as Em shot this role before Twilight and is sensational — her best screen work yet. As his slacker best friend Joel Martin Starr underplays it nicely creating a three-dimensional character in just a few scenes. Hot newcomer Margarita Levieva is hysterical as Lisa P the park’s resident tease and gossip while SNL stalwarts Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig do their usual flawless comedic thing as the Adventureland owners. Ryan Reynolds is the perfect jerk as the joint’s self-appointed married skirt-chaser.
Expectations might be: It's just another gross-out teen comedy. But the real surprise is the sweet nature of the script and strongly-etched characters. Working in the world’s worst job is a good starting place for Mottola’s musings on love and relationships — and it's just as pertinent now as in the time the film is set. For those who still have a jonesin' for all things '80s the nifty soundtrack full of choice items from the era is retro-cool (except for that “Rock Me Amadeus” tune).
It’s a key plot point but it’s hard to see why Stewart’s character would get so attached to such a slimy married guy like the one Reynolds plays.
A restaurant scene where James pours his heart out to Em and reveals his virginity for the first time is very funny and painfully honest.
BEST DOWNER LINE:
In giving Em a custom-made gift the morose James says: “I made you a tape. These are my favorite bummer songs — pit of despair stuff.”
Based on a novel by Laura Kasischke it focuses on two 17-year-old high school girls--Diana (Evan Rachel Wood) and Maureen (Eva Amurri)--who are completely opposite in personalities but still the best of friends. In fact "one is the virgin one is the whore " according to Diana. She does everything her demure and religious BFF with their bond going spiritually deep. One fateful day at high school changes their lives however when a student gunman goes on a shooting spree in the school. The gunman corners the two girls in the bathroom and tells them he must kill one. Jump to 15 years later the adult Diana (Uma Thurman) has a great home life: smart cute kid successful husband nice house. But it's not as it seems. It is assumed that Maureen was the one who was killed prompted by her telling the gunman she wants to be the one shot. But a last-minute plot twist puts the movie's title in a different light: The Life Before Her Eyes is more than just Diana's life. This film incorporates some elegant performances from Wood and Amurri--two veterans of the teen genre who portray their characters’ friendship with much authenticity. Amurri(Susan Sarandon's real-life daughter) especially downplays her innocence with smart nuances while Wood is coming into her own as a strong edgy actress--just not enough to save this film. Thurman tempts Oscar-type bait as the emotionally distraught Diana constantly reliving the horror of the killing spree through flashbacks. The actress’ mood is maudlin and suitably translucent for mournfulness. But Thurman's screen presence is just too large and glamorous to be believable in the melancholy role. She looks to be assuming the trance-like “look of sadness ” as though she's playing a role. Her body language is too confident to be carrying around a lifetime of hurt. Director Vadim Perelman (House of Sand and Fog) is a poor man's Julian Schnabel--a visual and ephemeral craftsman who works with colors. Blurry imbued tones of greens and yellow bring the story to life pairing with spring-time settings with shadows and light. The Life Before Her Eyes aims for a dreamlike complexity and how conscience ties to memory. The film is also about how changing a person's destiny can completely rewrite an entire history. A palette of moody camerawork from director of photography Pawel Edelman (The Pianist) creates an eternal lushness which elevates the drama. The Columbine-style shooting sequences feels outdated however. It's a contrived museum treatment such public tragedies. It’s an adventurous independent film that doesn't quite come together as intended.
Grumpy curmudgeon Harvey Pekar (Paul Giamatti) is a file clerk at a Cleveland Pa. V.A. hospital with little ambition little hope and little joy in his life other than what he gets from reading listening to his beloved jazz records and scouring garage sales for that rare 25-cent find. It is at one such garage sale Harvey meets Robert Crumb (James Urbaniak) a fellow comic book fan and jazz enthusiast who is on the way to becoming a famous underground comic writer/illustrator. Harvey not only admires Crumb's work he also despairs of leaving this world without making his own mark on it so he takes a stab at writing a comic book that Crumb illustrates for him. Titled American Splendor Harvey's book is different than any other comic seen before; rather than focusing on superheroes or fictional characters his is an adult-themed series about his life and the working-class people he knows. The series' unsentimental hard-boiled humor finds a following and by the late 1970s Harvey had become an acclaimed underground comic book writer in his own right--he even becomes a regular guest on The David Letterman Show. Eventually he meets and marries one of his fans the sardonic and anti-establishment Joyce Brabner (Hope Davis) who faithfully supports him through their financial difficulties and Harvey's bout with illness. All the while Harvey's still toiling at his day job (the real Harvey Pekar didn't retire until 2001).
Character actor Giamatti single-handedly carries this film with great grouchy aplomb even as he switches from the character Harvey to an actor playing Harvey (it's done documentary-style with voiceover and appearances by the real Harvey Pekar who narrates the story Giamatti acts out). His dry ornery one-liner delivery is priceless and he fits the irascible foot-dragging Harvey to a T. Pay special attention to one brilliant scene in which Harvey a Jew himself comes close to losing it at the market while waiting in line behind an old Jewish lady with a fistful of coupons and a bone to pick with the cashier. Davis too embodies the neurotic Joyce who gently mocks but deeply loves and endlessly supports her prickly misfit husband. Also good is Judah Friedlander as Harvey's co-worker Toby a self-proclaimed nerd with a bizarre way of speaking.
Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman were drawn to Harvey's story because of its Everyman appeal and their vision of it comes through in the film's grimy rust-belt environs and grainy naturalist '70s-movie feel. The directors tell most of this tale via the dramatization starring Giamatti but cleverly interweave comic cartoons moments of imagination and even old footage of Pekar himself from his Letterman appearances into the narrative. Even the real Harvey Pekar and the cast of characters from his life in Cleveland make an appearance. This all makes for one overlong albeit highly creative movie and also makes the character of Harvey more interesting than one suspects he would have been had the film been done in a straight biographical style. Problem is the story's niche appeal just doesn't live up to the collage of techniques used to tell it. Harvey understandably grim and depressed given his bleak circumstances simply isn't as fascinating a guy as the filmmakers would have you believe and all the creative devices in the world can't convince you he is.