Some films seem to exist already, in the aether of our collective subconscious, and it takes a director (or writer/director) to act as lightning rod and turn it into an actual film we can go and see. As Martin Starr's Joel, from the sweet/succulent Adventureland, might say, certain films are a Platonic ideal. A higher truth. That they can play before our eyes is proof of the director's focus: they can birth into reality what merely played across their mind's eye.
That, of they are just good at getting the rhythm of current indie-dramedy cliches, and infusing their adolescent memories with such cliches (and rhythms), and putting out a film they have convinced themselves, and so too us, is as genuine as they come.
I honestly haven't decided which side of that Adventureland falls, but after watching it thrice, and liking it more each time, I figure that if it's the annoying current indie-dramedy cliches one, writer/director Greg Motolla is both unaware, and still really good at film making, and so we can excuse him for making something that feels sort of like other small emotional films about young people that are made today. The beats are the same, but the particulars are original, and I was absorbed.
I was absorbed by the attempted-but-failing non-neurotisicm of Jesse Eisenberg, by the ever-disappointment-expecting (and already mentioned) Martin Starr (so already mentioned because he creates such a memorable character that he easily outshines the other possible-breakout character: Freigo). I was absorbed by the hurt and messiness of pre-Twilight Kristen Stewart, and by the apparently-silent tragedy of the father. And when Kristen Stewart's character was dealing, head-on, with the darkness in her (realistic human darkness, not some angsty vampire bullshit), every millisecond came from somewhere, and lead somewhere, and I knew I was watching a real person actually work this out. These characters felt real, like they survived after the film ended, and before it began, and while they had the ability to make me angry, I never wanted to write any of them off. Even the worshiped Lisa P. wasn't as shallow as I expected her to be. A real world came and went in this film.
So why did it feel like it was built on the sensibilities of so many similar films? I think there was just a sense of distortion that only exists in a movie. A fish-eye lens that tightly held Eisenberg in the middle, and on the borders of which orbited the nagging mother, the wacky childhood friend, the cool but troubled older role-model. Even a well-written, well acted film can't make "quirky" feel free of some form of formula. Perhaps it's the just the format that is storytelling. Dramatic things needs to happen, and funny characters need to react to them, and the mere fact that it's fiction is a conceit. Interesting that an organic film like Adventureland, of all things, could rest on that fulcrum, and make me feel the mechanic of the stage itself.
One thing I'd like to mention that, very specifically, bugged me with the performances in the film, was that, for all her genuine acting talent, Kristen Stewart relies a lot on not being convinced by things. She's very often furrowing her brow, and very nearly rolling her eyes, and nervously tossing her hair. She is very good at being too cool for whoever she's talking to. And while I get that these are all defense mechanisms--something appropriate for the character--they seemed close to a two-dimensional acting choice. It was the one thing I felt at odds with, and is a shining example of current indie-dramedy cliches.
Oh and Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are hilarious. But then we all knew that.