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April 06, 2009

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bill

"It's also nice how Mottola, like Truffaut's mentor Jean Renoir, allows all his characters their reasons, or at least their humanity; even Ryan Reynolds' full-of-it amusement park lothario has his sadly empathetic moments."

Did Mottolla work on "Freaks & Geeks"? Because that refusal to take easy shots at easy villains without at least giving those villains their own moments was one of the things I liked best about that show. That show resonates with me more for that reason, I think, than for my own identifications with its heroes. Although that's there, too.

Glenn Kenny

No "Freaks & Geeks" for Mottola; he began working with Apatow on "Undeclared," which, truth to tell, might as well have been a series sequel to "Freaks," so your point's still well-taken.

Davin

Talk about grace notes; the bit at the end with the almost abstract streetlights-through-raindrops-through-bus-window sequence over The Replacements' "Unsatisfied" was a real winner for me. Sent me running for "Let it Be" as soon as I got home.

Patricia Petite

"A John Hughes movies directed by Truffaut" is exactly the kind of bullshit critical shorthand that makes me not want to read any print critics any more, and most of the film bloggers.

bill

I never did see "Undeclared". I think my wife and I were both concerned it would pale next to "Freaks & Geeks", but now I think we'll have to take the plunge.

Glenn Kenny

@Patricia P.: Gawrsh, I thought I was doing due diligence by actually citing specific instances where a Truffaut influence could be detected, but I guess you can't please everybody. Thanks for stopping by and venting some hostility, though.

Ryland Walker Knight

Oulipo is a way of life.

Max

Very nice review. I was expecting a wacky comedy based on the trailers, but it in reality was as sweet and thoughtful a portrayal of first love as that of a film like Say Anything. It really makes you realize that honest portrayals of teenage/post-collegiate life are in short supply.

Also, I'm glad you were able to look past the fact that Jesse Eisenberg is not as funny as Michael Cera, a less-than-pertinent observation that plagued other "critics"'s enjoyment of the movie.

I've appreciated your reviews for years, and in fact often cited you as the critic most in line with my taste, appreciating movies that other mainstream critics seemed to miss the boat on (The Fountain and I Heart Huckabees chief amongst them). But taste aside, your reviews exhibit consummate professionalism, honesty and a lack of pretentious posturing inherent in some of your contemporaries.

It is thus a shame that it is the hackneyed, soundbite approach to film criticism, personified by Ben Lyons, that is seemingly worth most to corporate America today. Looking at Premiere "reviews" today, I am struck by how asinine it is to have replaced your astute and often witty prose with this Mad Libs criticism. To me, and many others who follow you here, they lost all credibility in replacing you. But it's great to have you still reviewing, as you're always a pleasure to read.

This verbal-fellating wasn't my intention in beginning this comment, but every once and a while a man reflects upon the things he appreciate in life, and you certainly deserve this appreciation.

Bart

I think it was rather drab and predictable, and that AO Scott's overblown review was silly.

Aaron Aradillas

Obviously that white female critic at Sundnace '04 forgot one of the basic rules of criticism: It's not what the movie is about, but how it is about it. I mean, has she given up on coming-of-age stories since '04? Besides, Garden State is a nicely textured, small-scale pop romance.

Everything from the opening credit sequence to Kristin Stewart's star-making performance to the use of The Velvets' "Pale Blue Eyes" mark Adventureland as the first truly great American film of 2009.

Simon Crowe

Thank you for pointing out that the whole Manic Pixie thing doesn't apply here. To paraphrase something from my own review, Em (and James too) is discovering that she can hurt and be hurt in return and that actions have consequences - but what's refreshing is that Mottola doesn't waste time judging or justifying anyones behavior but instead works in the grey areas in between. I loved this film, and your take on it is much in line with my own.

Moviezzz

One thing:

"All the kids in this picture are really into pot, as who wouldn't be at such a summer job with no drug tests?"

Many of the reviews have been pointing out the pot use. Yet, never having inhaled myself (honestly!), I have to ask, was there really all that much?

Early in the film, James is given 5 joints to last all summer. SPOILERS he only smokes three and gives the other two away. Is that really a lot?

I mean, Peter Travers called him a "pothead" in his Rolling Stone review. Three joints over a summer makes a pothead? Its like someone drinking three times and being called an alcoholic.

Nathan

It's nice to see this film getting some well-deserved praise. It's definitely my favorite American film of the year so far. And I'm with you on the Crowded House-scored scene. It's become de rigueur to include a smorgasbord of pop nuggets in films of this type, but I thought Mottola's choices were especially astute. I thought it was significantly better than "Superbad" as well as most other coming of age films from the past several years.

Glenn Kenny

@Max: Thanks very much. Your words mean a lot. Much appreciated.

@Moviezzz: James' own supply aside, there seemed a fair amount of weed going around. And then there were the baked goods. But I ain't Peter Travers, and I didn't call 'em potheads. What is interesting, though, and I guess I'm guilty of omitting this fact too, but pretty much everybody who gets behind the wheel of a car in this picture does so with at least one drink in him/her on at least one occasion. The 80s...

S.F. Hunger

Nice review, Glenn, but I wonder how you feel about the ending of the picture. I was with Mottola 100% until that New York coda, which struck me as a rather bogus bit of wish-fulfillment fantasy in a film that had been, up to that point, decidedly honest and unsentimental in its outlook. I mean, he steps right off the bus and there she is? I wish Mottola'd had the inclination (or, to be less kind, the guts) to acknowledge that sometimes these formative summer flings don't work out, or end badly, or don't result in loss of virginity, without tacking on a magical evening at the end in which all is resolved wondrously. I mean, I was happy for James (c'est moi, c'est moi), and the ending is handled well for what it is, but I think the film suffers for it.

Joel

I'm no critic, but I was pretty much like Brennan ten years ago, which actually made me less sympathetic to the guy. I couldn't find my copy of Let it Be in the trunk of car, so I just listened to White Light, White Heat on my way home from the movie (its use over the opening credits was lovely). To the commenter who called it "drab," I'm just happy you haven't seen I Love You, Man yet, which is one of the most perfunctory point-and-shoot pieces of filmmaking I've seen in a long time. With Adventureland there were three shots I can instantly recall two days later: the aforementioned fireworks scene (out-of-focus Em in foreground close-up), the crane shot of Adventureland shutting down, with the sign still buzzing faintly in the top-right corner of the frame, and Frigo setting off bottle rockets on the hill. At the very least, this was a professional-looking comedy, not just a sitcom with a bit of studio spit-shine.

John M

"Besides, Garden State is a nicely textured, small-scale pop romance."

Quick, someone tell me what this means.

Craig

One element I took as a nod to "Freaks and Geeks" -- which may or may not be, but it caught my eye -- was the green Army flak jacket that Kristen Stewart wears at one point during the film (I think it's the bumper-cars sequence), which reminded me of the jacket worn by Linda Cardinelli on F&G.

Joe

I like "Adventureland." I like it a lot. But let's put things in perspective. The way some critics have been carrying on about it only sets up false expectations. Case in point: the ridiculous Truffaut reference. Really?

These days, I find that most films are time-wasters that fall into a huge gray area, critically, generating dismissive, unmemorable reviews. The majority of the modern movies is soul-killers for critics.

But there are also those certain few titles that are seemingly singled-out and either excessively underrated or excessively overrated.

"Adventureland," as pleasurable as it is, falls squarely in the latter group.

It's no "Les Quatre cents coups" or even "Baisers volés."

If it's reminiscent of anything, it's ... "Caddyshack." Despite its autobiographical bent, the film plays almost as if Mottola traced over Ramis's work. Think about it. Its characters and situations are nearly parallel to those in "Caddyshack."

The only missing elements: The Rodney Dangerfield and Ted Knight characters.

Joe

P.S.: I should add that I'm a huge fan of "Caddyshack" - yes, perhaps guilty of overrating it. "Adventureland" is a more naturalistic take on essentially the same material. End of diatribe. Honest.

Craig

It's as if Truffaut directed "Caddyshack"....

Glenn Kenny

I rather agree that the pronouncement from which I extrapolated a Truffaut influence—Sean Burns' Philadelphia Weekly statement about "Adventureland" being a Hughes movie directed by Truffaut—was an unsupported piece of critical shorthand. But note that when I cited it, I didn't say, "Burns is spot on," but rather, "odd as it may sound, he's on to something." In the examples I cited thereafter, I was not trying to construct an equivalence—Greg Mottola=Truffaut, "Adventureland"="Les Quatre cent Coups" or any such thing—but point out where I felt there was a genuine Truffaut influence, or affinity, in Mottola's style of storytelling and/or conveying emotion, which I insist is there. I mean, "Caddyshack" doesn't have any shots in which a character stands still in confusion and despair as the camera steadily dollies right, into a patch of black nothingness, and fades out, does it? That's the sort of thing I'm talking about.

I should add right here that I, too, enjoy "Caddyshack" a great deal, just for the record.

Pat

Glenn-- I'm not sure I understand your defensiveness. No one here has accused you of supporting the Truffaut analogy. You were simply pointing out a compelling comment that you found in a review, right? At least, that's the way I took it. Neverthless, the "John Hughes movie directed by Francois Truffaut" comment is the kind of observation that sounds good in a review, so long as one doesn't think about it too much. It's glib critiquing. It's easy for a reviewer to throw in a comment like that, but a tad more difficult to back it up or actually explain it - as you do so eloquently at the end of you latest comment. Still, it really doesn't make sense to me. I much prefer Craig's "as if Truffaut directed 'Caddyshack'" throwaway line. More comic - and possibly more accurate.

One last thing: You mention one shot in "Adventureland" that reminded you of Truffaut. Are there any others? None comes to my mind.

Chris Walters

Went to see 'Adventureland' with a friend who knows more about technical processes than I do; his eyes are sharp, he has worked on movies his whole adult life and even directed one. We loved the movie but were puzzled by softness of the image. The word "fuzzy" came up more than once as we spoke of it later. The theater in question shows celluloid. My friend went to see 'Adventureland' at a theater equipped with 4K digital projection a few days later, and reported that the image was much sharper, enhancing the experience of the movie by a good measure. This all has to do with the apparently standard procedure of shooting on film, then scanning the negative into digital for color correction and finally printing back to film for the final artifact. Except a theater equipped with digital projection will not receive a print, of course, only a hard disk containing the image file. The significance of this – essentially there are two versions of 'Adventureland' in release, one frustrating in its softness and the other not – speaks for itself. IMHO.

Craig

To put it less flippantly than my earlier off-the-cuff quip, I'm with Glenn and Sean Burns on this one. "John Hughes + Truffaut" is more imaginative than my original "'Say Anything' meets 'Dazed and Confused'" description or anything else I've read. "Adventureland" filters a classic romantic triangle/quadrangle template through a deep sensitivity toward young people with a style that at times has the feel of a European art film. (VAGUE SPOILER FOLLOWS....) It ends, for example, with a scene of physical and emotional nakedness that wouldn't have been out of place with Truffaut or Louis Malle, but in what is ostensibly a commercial American comedy it's a fairly bold and startling capper. Definitely more Truffaut than "Caddyshack."

Bruce Reid

I enjoyed and admired Adventureland, but must have caught the "frustrating" out of focus version Chris mentions; mine blurred out completely the gently Gallic universal humanism brought up by the Truffaut and Renoir comparisons. Compared to the balanced, nonjudgmental treatment of James, Em, and (to a lesser but still sensitive degree) Joel--each shown to have their faults but also, yes, their reasons--other characters were barely sketched in beyond class signifiers (Semiotics 101!). Foremost being a distinct lack of intellectual curiosity or ambition, hammered on relentlessly enough to shatter some of the movie's artful delicacy.

Whatever tenderness led Mottola to note Lisa P.'s anxious slathering on of make-up for her date left him when having her trip up over her crimped understanding of gender roles in her final scene. Which made her the second character dismissed from the movie by one of the romantic leads for her limited empathy, after Joel's date casually reveals her own anti-Semitism.

The film is never cruel or mean-spirited about this (Mottola's definitely too good for that), but I felt the film only reaching out all the way to the fiscally challenged artist wannabe, the lawyer's sad little girl, and the impoverished intellectual; those that, unlike the others, Mottola seemed to think really shouldn't have had to work at the amusement park. That snobbery left a dull ache under the rosy glow the film mostly inspired, as if all the sweetness was merely setup for one of the suckerpunches Frigo loves to throw.

Now, in fairness, I admire the film for noticing, even highlighting, class tensions that most films would rather ignore; and certainly one of the main points at play is that these are precisely the types one has to leave behind to grow up. But if a married man cheating on his wife with teenage carnival workers merits a beat or two of conflicted sympathy from Mottola, surely he could have done better by the discontented coworkers than comic relief, dead weights, and fingerposts on our heros' journey towards reinvention in New York town.

Late to the party and overstating the case? Yeah, probably guilty on both counts.

Tess

I enjoy rides.

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