Monday, April 06, 2009

Dept. of Critical Drum-Banging

Glenn Kenny also likes Adventureland, digs Kristen Stewart, and is clever enough to look past the superficial similarities to broader films. (Some Came Running)

And there's one of the rubs about Adventureland; one of its many aspects that puts it a whole bunch of cuts above less considered, more studiedly "nice" fare—the character of Em, the fellow amusement-park worker James falls for and forms a sometimes rather tentative affinity with. While her stature and relatively infrequent smile evoke "pixie" somewhat, the character is hardly manic; indeed, actress Kristen Stewart, giving a remarkably calibrated performance, gives Em very sleepy eyes a fair amount of the time. (All the kids in this picture are really into pot, as who wouldn't be at such a summer job with no drug tests?) The last thing Em is out to do is "save" James, although she's intrigued by both his honesty and his virginal condition; she just wants a good guy to hang with. A good guy who maybe, not coincidentally, might be able to serve as an escape hatch from the screwed-up amorous situation she's already trapped in.

Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly said the picture "at times feels like a John Hughes movie directed by Francois Truffaut," and as odd as that might sound, he's on to something. Mottola's frequent use of blackouts—a Truffaut touch Robert Benton also lifted for Kramer Vs. Kramer—is one example. Another is his treatment of Em and her storyline, which is subordinate to James' but is treated with as much scrupulousness. Mottola gives us just enough of Em's backstory to let the audience know her situation's a bad one, but never bends over backwards or try to rationalize how this essentially good and smart person has made at least a couple of fundamentally bad and dumb choices. Mottola will often end a scene of Em's home life by merely letting it hang, not giving us the fully-resolved blowouts that seem to be required in mainstream American character studies. As a result, what we don't hear being said has a peculiar resonance.

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