Pittsburgh Against the World, a Clash of Filmography
Well, deals have been struck, agreements have been reached, and it’s official! I’m now a published blogger on the campus magazine website! (Not that I get paid or anything, but it’s sorta fun to, uh, pretend it’s significant.)
So what does this mean for my part time series on this, the website that helped get me started? …Pretty much that all the people (both of them) who were into the ongoing entries I was doing will have to switch to this series, in which I stroke my home town and the films to come out of it by favorably comparing them to movies from across the states. But, it willÂ be more of a full time thing from now on. (Unless of course I get fired or give into my extraordinary laziness.)
This round: Romantic Dramedy
You might be surprised to learn how many movies have been filmed in Pittsburgh. For over a hundred years, directors have found the steel city to be a valuable location, sometimes leading to all-time greats â€“ particularly in the horror genre â€“ that Iâ€™ll be covering eventually. In this series, Iâ€™ll be exploring how Pittsburgh filmography stacks up to entries from all across the United States. Each new city will be brought in for one side by side comparison in one genre. This week, to help soothe the last of the annual disappointment for so many that is Valentineâ€™s Day, romantic comedies would seem the easy choice. However, the best love stories filmed here arenâ€™t quite lighthearted enough to fit that category. They have a bit more substance to them, best described with the little-used phrase â€œromantic dramedy.â€ So today, we explore how well a Pittsburgh story of romance, humor, and personal struggles succeeds against its peers.
-Pittsburghâ€™s entry: â€œAdventurelandâ€ (2009)
â€œAdventurelandâ€ (Greg Mottola, of â€œSuperbadâ€ fame) has been described as sweet and nostalgic, which it is. But it is not â€œsweetâ€ in the style of a basic romantic comedy, and the nostalgic gaze does not for one second gloss over the frustrating side of the past. Mottola understands that the dimension of an experience is what really makes it worth conveying; if you go to a picnic and have a good time with your friends, thatâ€™s just fine, but if a storm hits while youâ€™re all tossing a Frisbee and a bear wanders out of the woods when you go to retrieve it from the mud, now youâ€™ve got a story.
Itâ€™s 1987 and James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), a comparative literature major, isnâ€™t quite ready to be left to his own devices when his dad loses his job, forcing him to stay with his parents for the summer and work to pay for graduate school. Not only is he less than fond of his hometown, with nothing to do besides suffer his immature friend Tommy Frigo (Matt Bush), but it seems the options for a summer job in Pittsburgh were never much broader than they are here in the present.
â€œWhat am I supposed to do? Iâ€™m not even qualified for manual labor,â€ he vents, after getting nowhere with his attempt to list driving his friendâ€™s van as a qualification.
This leaves a job at the titular amusement park, which Pittsburgh natives will recognize as the beloved Kennywood. Itâ€™s more or less his last choice, managing rigged games for a rough crowd, but this makes it easy for him to befriend the people working there. Everyone endures the same lousy routine, so they might as well be miserable together. The movie has a perfect understanding of the frustration behind these summer jobs. Then heâ€™s saved from a knife-toting redneck by a jaded game manager his age named Emily (Kristen Stewart), and a subtle spark ignites. It takes some time hanging out in the same crowd together, but they find that they have a deeper connection than the rest.
â€œAdventurelandâ€ moves more slowly than Mottolaâ€™s breakout feature â€œSuperbad,â€ and its humor, while funny, is more quiet and reflective. There are exceptions (the married park owners played by Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are hilarious), but the foremost quality of the film is the weighty affection that it carries. Jamesâ€™s pursuit of Emily is riddled with mistakes on both ends â€“ real mistakes too, not rom com misunderstandings â€“ but we get the sense that whatever happens, both of them will look back on the summer fondly.
Eisenberg is impressive as usual, giving James a sort of cynical dignity, despite his also being a genial nerd; he might live the life of a lovable loser, but heâ€™s no pushover. Most-all of the cast is solid, but the surprise is Kristen Stewart, of Twilight infamy. Critics who blame her derided performances on the direction might have a point after all. Stewart turns Emily into the type of girl weâ€™ve all probably met, unintimidated, unapologetic, and, yes, often unemotional, but also â€“ thereâ€™s no other word for it â€“ cool. Emily fits right in with the group at Adventureland. She may catch almost as many stares from the guys as the seductive Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva), but sheâ€™s the one thatâ€™ll be hanging out with everyone when the shift is over.
Unfortunately, old Kennywood Park is stuck playing more of an antagonist this time, reworking its classic rides and various games to appear cheap and secondhand. Itâ€™s really a pretty good performance, but as an old friend of the place, itâ€™s one I can see right through.
â€œAdventureland,â€ is a gentle ride on a grand old rollercoaster, taking us down bumpy tracks and nostalgic turns with a deft design, all adding up to a more emotional experience than you might expect.
Next week, the city to throw its hat into the ring will be Ann Arbor, Michigan. Feel free to suggest genres and cities youâ€™d like to see examined against Pittsburgh in the future.