Monday, June 15, 2009

Tickets To The Adventure Land

Tickets To The AdventureLand

I have to say, I really didn't have all that much interest in seeing Adventureland when it showed up in theaters. Sure, it's from the writer of Superbad, but the trailers weren't grabbing me or anything like that.

Then on an impromptu movie outing I discovered not only the new and improved west side pavilion theater, which I hadn't been to since I was pretty young. I believe it was Alvin and the Chipmunks that I saw there, but I also saw Adventureland.

First off, I have to say, the theater itself is a great change. What was once a very crappy mall movie theater got changed over to a really amazing multi-level movie complex with great choices of dinning. The seating and theater size is rather small and comfy with couches and bean bag chairs. It's like Arclight but bumped up a few notches making it a very relaxing movie experience.

On this whim of a movie trip I saw Adventureland and was absolutely blown away at how good it was and how much I enjoyed it. Even going so far as thinking it was one of my favorite movies of 2009.

So what made this movie stand out? Well, perhaps it was because Adventureland is a movie about the American class system. It was all about the characters. Consider the main characters and what classes they occupy as the movie progresses:

James: James is an undergrad in a degree program with no real-world application, who plans on living a summer of luxury and discovery in Europe before going off to a prestigious Ivy League school. This is the life of the upper-middle class. His plans are thwarted as his father is demoted, and he loses the capital ability to do this. Instead he's forced to move back to the lower-middle-class suburbs of his youth and take a low respect job doing menial and degrading work so he can pay his own way into a state school.

Eric: James' friend, who gets three (at most) scenes of screen-time, although is pivotal to the plot. Eric plays at being a disaffected artist, and does so on his parents' upper-middle class salaries. He gives James the universal key to acceptance, however, a big bag of marijuana as a token gift when he learns that his friend will be living with reduced means. At the end of the movie Eric decides that, there being no money in being a disaffected artist, to instead go into business school, maintaining his upper-middle class status.

Em: James' love interest. She comes from a strong middle-class background. She's dissatisfied with her new mother (literally a fake person because of the wig that she wears) who she sees as gold-digging and status-grabbing. Her father, a lawyer, is able to maintain a very comfortable standard of living for them, enough for a private pool, a nice house, entertaining guests at a cocktail party, and for his daughter to live and go to school in New York. Em rebels against this, choosing the low-class job at Adventureland, seemingly to spite her step-mother.

Joel: Joel, by his own admission, is 'poor and ugly', and the audience never has reason to doubt either. Joel's life is one of dissatisfaction ameliorated by his love for the written word. He is able to climb in social status, if not in reality, then at least in his own mind.

Mike: Mike, Em's married love interest, is lower-middle class. He maintains a skilled job as a mechanic, but it's not a position that commands respect or much beyond a living wage. Mike lives in fantasy - he imagines that he's a great musician, a tortured artist, who will one day make it big. He fools impressionable girls with this line (although maybe not) and abuses their naivety for sexual release.

If you go through the characters you can see where the script and the direction has given us subtle clues to their own economic and social means. Lisa P's father is a miner who is on disability. Frigo is the same age as James, lives with his mother, and drives their barely-running car.

One common theme with all of the characters listed above is their desperate desire to break free of their class. Either through rebellion, and flirting with the lower classes (Em and Eric), or through meaningless fantasy (Mike and Joel).

What is a story of a workplace if not a story of advancement or demotion? These are the logical conclusions to a story about a job - you excell at it or you leave it. But there is no upwards or downwards movement in any of these characters. The 'townies' at Adventureland are where they were before the action of the story started, and for all the audience can tell that's where they'll remain. Em and James, the two characters with the most ability to move, seem to have adapted to this bohemian, outside-the-system lifestyle, but the director makes us doubt how valid this conclusion is. And Eric, the man on top, remains there, and goes to business school to make sure that's where he stays.

At the end of the movie there isn't really any release for any of the characters. We part with James and Em coupling in a squalid apartment in NYC, James vowing to get a shitty job and do whatever it takes to be with Em. But at the end of the day, despite these bohemian pretensions, Em can move back in with her father and James can move back in with his parents. Both can get middle class jobs, and keep on with life as their parents had lived it.

James and Em's love is suspect throughout the script, and the ending leaves no reassurance that their relationship will be a happy one.

There is one important constant through all of these characters, regardless of their social standing: drugs.

James, a cringing and awkward person, is able to buy acceptance with his big bag of pot. James' father copes with his demotion through a beautifully subtle drinking problem. Every class in the movie is shown drinking or smoking at some point - their way of dealing with the nauseating class system that none of them seem to want, but all are forced to accept.

This stuff is what I enjoyed about the flick. All of the chracters are mostly constructed from stereotypes. They are stereotypes that we know well and all these subtle clues are used to fill us in on the backgrounds of the characters without hitting us over the head with their life stories. We don't need to be told that Mike is mostly full of shit, becuase we have probably all met a Mike in our life. What we do want is something to nail down which version of "that guy" Mike is supposed to be.

So yeah, in a nutshell, that's Adventureland. A fun flick and while I hated Twilight, I didn think that Kristen Stewart did a decent job at acting in this film. So hey, that's a plus one to it. But I must say that Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader seriously needed to be in more of this film.

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