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.”
Ira Black (Chris Messina) is a prototypical movie New Yorker--he wears a lot of black he's in therapy (well technically analysis) and he's in the habit of over-thinking everything he does from his Ph.D. dissertation to what to order for lunch. Then he meets free-spirited empathetic Abby Willoughby (Jennifer Westfeldt) and everything changes. They're engaged within hours married within a week and in couples' therapy not long after. Meanwhile their long-married parents--uptight opera-going Sy (Robert Klein) and Arlene (Judith Light) Black and freewheeling easygoing Michael (Fred Willard) and Lynne (Frances Conroy) Willoughby--have their own issues to face. And their own professionals to consult. In the end everyone's left pondering the true meaning of love commitment marriage and mental health. When a movie's cast is as full of talented professionals as Ira and Abby's it's hard to begrudge the fact that most of them are playing somewhat familiar characters. Messina's Ira is angsty conflicted and quick to question happiness--in other words every neurotic New Yorker Woody Allen ever played. Meanwhile Westfeldt (who also wrote the film) works the same loquacious slightly kooky charm she perfected in Kissing Jessica Stein; you can't help liking Abby even when you want to shake some sense into her. In the supporting cast Klein Light Conroy and Willard are all strong rising above the "conservative" and "hippie" labels hanging over their characters' heads (it's particularly nice to see Willard in a role that's a bit toned down from his usual brand of cheerful oafishness). And familiar faces like Jason Alexander Chris Parnell and Darrell Hammond are a welcome too. Ira and Abby is only Robert Cary's second feature film credit; his first Standard Time was a musical and you can see some of that genre's broad sensibility here too. Ira's pre-Abby world is all dark colors cool light and sharp lines--but when he crosses into her sphere suddenly primary hues are everywhere rooms are suffused with warm yellow glows and furniture is for relaxing on not admiring. Unfortunately too many of the same kind of obvious cues direct the story as well. Westfeldt's script is smart and often charming but it's never very hard to guess where Ira and Abby is going: If you're looking for a "and then they got married and lived happily ever after" story you won't find it here. Ira and Abby's perspective on marriage may be a bit more realistic than the Grimm brothers' but you still shouldn't recommend it to any newlyweds you know.
Far From Heaven pays homage to the 1950s director Douglas Sirk (Imitation of Life) by defining the women and men of that era and conjuring up characters whose squeaky-clean superficiality hides secret wants and desires simmering underneath. As the story unfolds Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) lives her life just about as perfectly as she can. A pillar of the community she takes care of her immaculate home and is devoted to her two children and husband Frank (Dennis Quaid) a thriving manager at a TV sales company. This is the outer layer of the onion--once we start to peel it back their flaws and imperfections are found. First of all Frank is harboring a deep dark secret that he can no longer suppress (he's--gasp!--gay) which sends the marriage--and Cathy--into a tailspin. She doesn't have anyone to turn to until she finds a comforting shoulder in her black gardener Raymond (Dennis Haysbert) to whom she finds herself growing more and more attached. Heaven forbid--needless to say their taboo "friendship" is not perceived well in the community. Even her best friend (Patricia Clarkson) a seemingly forward-thinking woman is riddled with prejudice and cannot understand. Raymond offers Cathy a glimpse into how life can really be lived without fear of repercussions from society but alas the inevitability of their world comes crashing in on them and the two realize their love can never be. Music swells (no seriously it does. Again and again) and the credits roll.
Even with the film's over-the-top plot the truly excellent acting ensemble must be commended for rising above the melodrama. Moore is a vision as Cathy. With her coiffed hair crinoline skirts and matching jackets she is a perfect example of the '50s housewife. But Moore's raw talent comes through as the layers are pulled away to expose her inner strength and core. Her husband may leave her for another man she may get ostracized for loving a black man but in the end you know Cathy is going to make it. It's one of those roles actresses dream of and Moore could finally get her chance at winning Oscar gold this year. Another good Oscar bet is Quaid who could be looking at his first nomination for his performance as Frank (although he is being touted for his turn in The Rookie as well). Quaid embodies Frank with the cocky attitude prevalent in men of that era and his attempt to cure himself of his "problem" is almost too comical. It's a gutsy role for him and he rises to the occasion. Haysbert (24) does a nice job as Raymond playing the role with quiet sexuality and making it easy to see how Cathy could fall for him. Clarkson (Six Feet Under) puts in a multi-layered performance as Cathy's friend Eleonor who is all talk but ultimately is nothing but another bigot.
Far From Heaven's attempt at Sirk's nostalgia is admirable and could be considered a breath of fresh--if this is the type of film you'd enjoy. Admittedly it's a beautiful film. Director Todd Haynes (Safe) paints a lush subtle green-and-taupe suburbia but gives the visuals harsher tones when things start going astray. It's the story that seems so out of place. The reason the melodramatic films of Douglas Sirk worked is because they were made in the 1950s. Life was more hypocritical then--sweet and light on top dark and real underneath. Overblown films about shallow people trying to redeem themselves or forbidden love being revealed while the music swells and your heart beats and you wonder how on earth these people will ever make it right again were very popular back then. The fact Frank can actually embrace his homosexuality and live his life as a gay man but Cathy can't be with the man she loves because he's black and she's white somehow doesn't seem to fit in with the modern times. We've grown up (albeit not completely) and paying homage to this style seems redundant. But hey if it floats your boat more power to you.