April 4, 2009 -- Based on previews, my expectations going into this movie were that it would be more along the lines of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” or “Superbad” than “A Walk to Remember.” It turns out to be more of a sweet, coming-of-age romance than a raunchy teen sex comedy, although it is not above resorting to crotch humor, or sex, for that matter. Overall, it is better than I expected it to be.
Jesse Eisenberg of “The Village” stars as James Brennan, a would-be journalist, who is actually more of a romance languages scholar, with emphasis on the romance. He is a shy virgin whose planned trip to Paris after graduating high school is scuttled by his parent's financial problems. Forced to look for work to pay his college tuition he finds himself unqualified even for manual labor. He ends up working in a seedy amusement park, where he receives little pay, works crooked carnival games and deals with abusive customers. He also makes friends with fellow staffers and finds romance, too. The oddball staff is made up of various losers, like the cynical Joel (Martin Starr of “The Incredible Hulk”) and few winners, like the handsome fixit man and musician, Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds of “Definitely, Maybe”) and the beautiful ride operator, Lisa P (Margarita Levieva of the TV show “Vanished”). The staff is headed up by the oddball pairing of Bobby (Bill Hader of “Superbad”) and Paulette (Kristen Wiig of “Ghost Town”).
James falls hard for the lovely and bright Em Lewin (Kristen Stewart of “Twilight”) while also striking up a friendship with the lovely and dim Lisa P. James and Em's relationship seems to be going pretty well until he discovers a secret about Em and her inner demons. He later has a date with Lisa P that he immediately regrets. His once well-ordered life falls off the rails in a hurry and his family is worried about the effect his new job is having on James. It turns out that James is simply learning that life is sometimes a very messy business. It cannot easily be put into order. He also discovers that love is not the way he pictured it, or the way it is sometimes written about. James must adjust to the curves that life has thrown at him.
The strength of this film goes beyond the hot romance between James and Em. Its strength lies in the power of its characters, primarily James, Em, Joel and Bobby. Each of them is flawed but also very compelling. Much of the film's humor comes from the interplay of its characters, but there is also a lot of slapstick comedy, some drug use comedy and even comedy poking fun at a retarded character. While the romance plays seriously, it is balanced by a lot of comedy, including some men hitting each other in the crotch. It is an odd mixture of serious romance and not-so-serious comedy, but it works most of the time. I laughed a lot and thought the romance really worked, unlike that earlier so-called romance Kristen Stewart starred in, “Twilight.” This film rates a B.
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