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Adventureland (10/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 106 minutes.

Not for children.

I have a list of unforgettable romances, those that linger for years. It starts in the ‘30s with “It Happened One Night” (1932), in which Clark Gable pursues reluctant runaway heiress Claudette Colbert on a bus trip across the country. Continuing in the ‘40s was “Casablanca” (1942) in which Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman love each other from afar. In the ‘50s it was “An Affair to Remember” (1957) in which Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr romance each other aboard a transatlantic luxury liner. The 60s added “Love With the Proper Stranger” (1963) in which a pregnant Natalie Wood reintroduces herself to her baby’s father, Steve McQueen. Then came “The Graduate,” (1967) in which Dustin Hoffman goes after Katherine Ross to the music of Simon & Garfunkle. The ‘60s closed out with “John and Mary” (1969) with Hoffman approaching Mia Farrow in a bar and they end up sleeping together without getting each other’s names after which the romance begins. The ‘80s icon is “When Harry Met Sally” (1989) with Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan being friends not noticing that they were falling in love.

Only two of these are realistic, “Love With the Proper Stranger,” and “John and Mary.” The others are movie magic, presenting lives of which people may dream, but which clearly nobody has ever lived. That doesn’t make the others unentertaining, but it was the consistency with real life that made these two stand out.

Now comes another to add to my short list, “Adventureland.”

I admit I went into this expecting a puerile teenager movie. While it’s about graduating collegians, what it really is, is a sweet, realistic love story. Everything about this movie is good, from the perceptive script and sensitive, intelligent directing of Greg Mottola, to the acting by the entire cast. While Jesse Eisenberg, the leading man (James Brennan) gives a captivating performance as the virginal, disingenuous protagonist, the person who stole the movie for me was Kristen Stewart (Em Lewin), the girl who captures his heart. She is the one who has to express her hidden emotions through her eyes. While she is a girl interested in a guy, she always shows that there’s something serious bothering her. It is her performance that makes this film something special.

While it’s not an A-list cast, the talent is all A-list. Among the supporting actors who shine are the always capable Wendie Malick and Jack Gilpin as James’ parents, Mr. & Mrs. Brennan. Then there are the park managers, Bobby (Bill Hader) and Paulette (Kristen Wiig), who add to the comedic aspects of what is really a serious story. Ryan Reynolds gives a deft performance as the charming, philandering husband, park mechanic Mike Connell, who heartlessly preys on women 20 years his junior.

James and Em are such delightfully nuanced characters that this never sinks into the young adult drivel thrust upon us by most movies about this generation. For my money, Stewart deserves an Oscar® nomination. Whether she gets one or not, this is the best feature film I’ve seen so far this year.

April 2, 2009