Two Days, two films, two lands, two performances from Jesse Eisenberg, one review. “TWO FILMS IN ONE REVIEW! YOU MUST BE MAD!” I hear you shout.
Not Mad. Madden.
Somewhat coincidentally I happened to watch Adventureland on Saturday, then Zombieland Sunday and, although unconventional, there doesn’t really seem any harm in reviewing them both at once considering the fact that the lead role in both instances is essentially the same.
That’s not really a massive dig at Jesse Eisenberg – after all the writers obviously have a lot to do with how a character is constructed, then there’s casting and directorial intent and whatever – but it is quite impressive how he managed to pick two roles which demand the exact same qualities and delivery from him. Saying that though Michael Cera must be slightly concerned now that he has competition for his awkward teenage virgin crown.
I digress! Adhering to the laws of chronology and bowing to the ever omnipotent power of the alphabet, let’s start with Adventureland.
Adventureland is a perfectly acceptable teen comedy/coming of age love story but the thing that stops it being anything more is the fact that it can’t really make up its mind which of the aforementioned genres it wants to belong to. And the fact that it’s pretty boring.
Like the Neapolitan ice cream of the film world, it tries to do a bit too much but doesn’t really excel in any one area. Sure there are some jokes in there, but they’re not really that funny. There’s some drama, but it’s not really that dramatic. There are some characters too, but I was hard pushed to really care about them.
With no real notable standout positives to drag it through the critique, it’s the little things that start to niggle. The eighties setting is largely inspired by director Mottola’s own time working at a theme park in his youth, but short of directorial indulgence, the setting doesn’t really seem to add anything. Sure the soundtrack is full of eighties hits and the costume department got to go crazy with stupid clothes and massive hair but it feels more of a stylistic choice than anything else – it really adds nothing to the content of the film, and that disappointed me.
And what was that other niggle… oh yeah, it’s pretty boring.
Don’t get me wrong here, Adventureland is perfectly watchable; it just doesn’t do anything we haven’t seen before. And seen better. And somewhat disappointingly, that’s about all I have to say for it.
Happily then, Zombieland fares a little better.
What we have here is a zombie movie which for the most part foregoes the regular focus of zombie movies (i.e. zombies, the peril associated with zombies, zombies trying to chew your face off) choosing instead to focus on the thoughts and feelings of its principle cast, particularly Jesse Eisenberg’s lead (an unusually whiny, emotionally driven character). Whilst this emotional focus might get a little tedious/unrealistic at times (it does seem strange to say a Zombie film isn’t realistic but what I really mean here is having the main character so focused on his feelings and pursuing a love interest, instead of worrying about not having his face chewed off) the different approach to an already pretty tired genre at the very least helps keep it feeling fresh throughout. This is compounded by the film’s use of flashbacks, which help to add depth to characters by showing them in situations they would have been more likely to have found themselves in before the Zombiepocalype.
And it’s lucky it has that freshness to rely on as the limited cast never really feels to be in danger at all – a strange stylistic choice for a zombie film, even a comedy focused one like this…
There’s been a lot of talk around this film about its big cameo appearance. I want to be careful to avoid any spoilers here but just wanted to note that although the cameo does garner some of the biggest laughs of the film, it doesn’t really fit with the rest of the narrative and I found it to be really jarring. Shame then that the most inadequate part of the film seems to be the bit that everyone else loves the most.
I’d be remiss if I missed the opportunity before closing to tip my hat to the excellent opening slow motion sequence, which is set to For Whom the Bell Tolls by Metallica. It does a good job of establishing the movie’s universe whilst simultaneously kicking a whole lot of ass. I’m sure we’re going to see it replicated a whole lot, but it’s already set the bar pretty high for its imitators.
Finally, a quick nod to Woody Harrelson – who is just pretty awesome throughout.
All in then, two entirely watchable films. Although I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch Adventure Land, I certainly wouldn’t object if someone else wanted to watch it. Zombie Land is a lot of fun and a more than decent effort into adding something slightly different in the Zombie genre – I was pleasantly surprised considering I had no desire to watch it at all. There’s already talk of a sequel and if this opening effort can be learned from and built upon, we’re in for a treat.