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.”
We meet the two very unlikely sisters while each are having sex. Rose Feller (Toni Collette) is a successful lawyer who is sleeping with her boss and thinking of ways it can improve her career. Maggie Feller (Cameron Diaz) is a party girl and at her 10-year high school reunion--after trying to have a fling in a bathroom stall--she ends up puking instead. Inevitably Maggie gets kicked out of her dad and stepmother's house and winds up on the doorstep of her sister. The Feller girls were close once when they were young girls especially after their mentally unstable mother died. But now their grown-up personalities clash rather dramatically. And when Maggie seriously crosses the line by seducing Rose's new boyfriend the straw is broken. Forced out Maggie stumbles upon some birthday cards from a long-lost grandmother and decides to go hit her up for cash. Turns out Grandma Ella (Shirley MacLaine) lives in a senior citizen's community in Florida that gets its humor from Golden Girls re-runs. Maggie may ingratiate herself within this new environment but isn't any more redeemed by reconnecting with Ella. She still acts like a petulant child. But rather than throwing her out Ella along with the gang of old folk forces Maggie to take some responsibility.
Collette (The Sixth Sense) is fantastic as the frumpy pudgy Philadelphia lawyer who gives up everything so she can walk dogs and lead a simpler life. But she's done this many times before--and honestly is so much better than Muriel's Wedding. Diaz (my personal favorite Charlie's Angel) doesn't need to stretch too far to play a conniving ditz with a heart. This is her There's Something About Mary role albeit a tad more screwed-up with a sister and lost grandma. So that leaves MacLaine as the saving grace for any worthwhile acting in this movie. Despite the obvious shuffleboard clichés--and the occasional leers at Diaz by the old guys around the pool--when the old folk are around the film gets lively and tolerable believe it or not. MacLaine leads the way with the quips and barbs but in a more subtle way than we are used to from this usually eccentric actress. The supporting cast of cranky cronies have some great moments especially veteran actor Norman Lloyd as the blind professor who teaches Maggie a thing or two about manners trust and family.
If this were Nora Ephron directing that would have been one thing but coming from Curtis Hanson the Oscar-winner who gave us L.A. Confidential it just doesn't mesh. Hanson can do quirky (Wonder Boys) he can do adventure (The River Wild) he can do hard-hittin' rap stories (8 Mile) and he can even do scary (Hand That Rocks the Cradle) but why in the world would he attempt a saccharine-soaked female family story that threatens to be a Crimes of the Heart tear-jerker? Screenwriter Susannah Grant who adapted In Her Shoes from Jennifer Weiner's popular bestseller of the same name also wrote Erin Brockovich and 28 Days. She understands strong female characters but there's still a major layer of sugar coating that Hanson can't scrape off. He doesn't tone anything down from Grant's script--not the overly cute dogs nor the embarrassing bridal shower nor the expected moments of guilt-tripping between the ladies. Instead he plods through the paint-by-number script and wraps it all up nicely into a crowd-pleasing film that is ultimately forgettable.
Along Came Polly has a place in a tiny niche of the romantic comedy genre that one might call "Poopy Love." You know these movies; they feature a nerdy guy usually played by Ben Stiller whose love interest witnesses him in the throes of some scatological or penile trauma yet falls in love with him anyway. The comedy throughout must be gross and whenever possible breast pee-pee or sphincter-related. The girl is usually a childhood friend (à la There's Something About Mary) who's grown up to be a beautiful if quirky creature--she'd have to be to fall in love with a guy who gets his wiener caught in his zipper on prom night discusses milking the cat at her parents' dinner table (à la Meet the Parents) or as in the case of Along Came Polly contracts a massive case of the squirts on their first date after eating spicy food with his fingers. But it's all in the spirit of fun as the love interest teaches the uptight guy to embrace life and there's much hilarity on the road to romance--as well as a fairly irrelevant subplot whose sole purpose is to show us what a great guy the hero is.
As Polly's leading man uptight newly wedded insurance risk assessor Reuben Feffer Stiller proves he's still the undisputed king of Poopy Love films by hamming it up to the hilt whether he's showing off his newly acquired salsa skills or making his misery and anger palpable--and physical--when his bride Lisa (played very straight by Debra Messing) has a fling on the first day of their honeymoon in St. Barts with French scuba instructor Claude (a very naked very toned very funny Hank Azaria). Crestfallen and bitter Reuben returns to the Big Apple alone and while at an art show with his best friend former child actor Sandy Lyle (Philip Seymour Hoffman) bumps into an old school chum the free-spirited Polly Prince (Jennifer Aniston). The uproar begins in earnest with Hoffman on the scene--his egomaniacal former child star is a funny tub of pomposity and insecurity--and he and Stiller have nice comic chemistry together. That's more than can be said of Aniston who doesn't seem to want to get her hands dirty even though the script offers her the opportunity. She never really participates physically in the comedy the way Cameron Diaz did in Mary--she simply reacts to Stiller's antics. Her character's pet ferret gets more laughs.
Like Stiller Along Came Polly's director and screenwriter John Hamburg is no stranger to Poopy Love having written the outrageous script for Meet the Parents and the less clever though highly original Zoolander. The jokes in Polly seem limited in comparison with a high reliance on pooping farting "sharting" (when you fart and a little poo comes out) and of course the old took-a-dump-in-your-girlfriend's-bathroom-and-the-toilet-won't-flush gag. That doesn't mean the movie's not funny--it is. There's just not much here we haven't seen before.