A blog about movies and filmmaking.

OBSERVE AND REPORT and ADVENTURELAND

In comedy on October 7, 2009 at 2:34 am

I seriously had way too many ideas for the title of this post, that I had to just go with the titles of the movies. So, yeah; OBSERVE AND REPORT and ADVENTURELAND. Both movies are comedies that really go down different roads to that almost take them out of that one genre of movie. OBSERVE AND REPORT, gets so dark and brutal that I almost feel like it goes into horror; and ADVENTURELAND ventures into pretty heavy dramatic territory with it’s themes and character relationships. But, I spent a great deal of time laughing at both, and feel they’re fully worth seeing, so that leads us to me writing about them (and not very well, I see). The kind of funny connection between these two movies, is 2007’s SUPERBAD – which is also a great comedy – written and directed by Greg Mottola, and featured Seth Rogen in a police uniform. Don’t worry, you’ll get the connection in a few minutes.

So, OBSERVE AND REPORT is the story of Ronnie Barnhardt, the head of security in the mall that the majority of the movie takes place. He’s a disturbed man, like “taking medication” disturbed (not that there’s anything wrong with that) who takes his position a little too seriously (not that unusual) and is just a little too obsessive about things he comes into contact with; namely Brandi, the make-up counter girl (played by Anna Faris), or becoming a police officer like his nemesis in the movie, Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta). For the first part, Ronnie gets his in with Brandi after she’s been flashed by a guy who has been running around the mall’s parking lot flashing people. This seems like it’s going to be the crux of the movie, this is also when we’re introduced to Detective Harrison, who Ronnie sees as invading his turf and just not knowing how to do his job.

After another plot thread develops where someone is breaking into stores and robbing them, after hours in the mall, Ronnie decides he wants to try and become a police officer. He goes into an office, gets the applications, gives a couple runs through an obstacle course (amazingly, tearing people to the side and running the course pretty well – considering we’re talking about pre-slimmed down Seth Rogen here), and going on a ‘Ride-along’ with Detective Harrison. Harrison takes Ronnie to the worst part of town – a street corner called the crossroads, and tells Ronnie to take a walk around. When he gets out of the car, Harrison takes off; only to then have Ronnie be approached by some kids offering him crack and the kid’s father (played in a cameo role by Danny McBride) come up and threaten Ronnie. Ronnie incapacitates – and from a line of dialogue, kills – McBride’s character and about five other guys.

During this time Ronnie’s feeling pretty good about himself. So, he manages to finagle a date with Brandi – who seemingly forgets and shows up in a car full of guys dropping her off at her place – and they go out, get lots of drinks, share Ronnie’s medication, and wind up in an awkward and much-discussed situation. Needless to say this is as far as their relationship ever gets.

Ronnie has some subordinates in his security guard detail. A pair of Asian twins played by John and Matt Yuan, jerry-curled, Latino Dennis (an unrecognizable Michael Pena), and new recruit Charles played by Jesse Plemons. For the role of Ronnie, Seth Rogen seemed to have actually put on a few pounds, shaved his trademark messy “jew-fro” and turned down the cute and cuddly for the more threatening and psychotic. There was a joke his character made in THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN about Steve Carell’s character being a serial killer. Well, Ronnie fits that mold to a “T”, in this movie. his mother (Celia Weston) is always drunk, encourages Ronnie before his date with the story of her and Ronnie’s father’s first date (she says something like, “I knew he was special and that I was going to fuck him.” To which Ronnie says he hopes that’ll happen for him. (Whether he means the someone special thing, or just having sex, who knows; and I would doubt that he’d be as thoughtful to consider the former.)

The movie takes some very dark turns, which is kind of the stock in trade that writer/director Jody Hill, seems to enjoy. There’s a moment that seems to be a nod to the South Korean movie OLDBOY, the fight I already mentioned with the drug dealers, but there’s another one with a pack of skateboarding kids that just gets brutal, and then there’s the more explicit moments. Whether it’s the questionable date rape scene (is it, isn’t it? I’m not arguing either way.), and the streaker, who in the climax to the movie we get to see running through the halls of the mall, in full glory, and then the way that chase ends really kind of sucks all the air out of the theater (although, you’re going to now be watching this at home, I’d think). But, as dark as it gets, there’s a lot of humor too. Aziz Ansari has a couple of scenes, as a kiosk employee selling those skin creams that come from like the Dead Sea or something. (He gets probably one of my favorite lines in the movie, and it refers to Chik-Fil-A.) There’s also a whole other sub-plot with a cinnamon-shop with a girl that’s got a cast on her leg, Nell (played by Collette Wolfe) and is constantly hounded by her manager, played by Patton Oswalt.

Overall, it’s a great, and funny movie. Just expect there to be some moments that might cause you to pause and reconsider what you’re seeing. But, I have to imagine that it’s a more fulfilling experience than the previous mall cop movie, about that guy Paul Blart. (No I haven’t seen it, yes I’m blindly casting aspersions at it. Don’t make me go all Ronnie Barnhardt on you!)

ADVENTURELAND, the not quite latest movie starring Jesse Eisenberg (see ZOMBIELAND – not a sequel, but both take place in a themepark, only one has zombies – for that honor), Kristen Stewart, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig and Ryan Reynolds. Much like OBSERVE AND REPORT, this is a movie that was marketed on the back of it’s sister movies SUPERBAD, and other Judd Apatow-related movies, but in reality it ventures off that side-splittingly funny track and heads down some pretty serious subject matter – along with also having some really funny stuff in it.

Jesse Eisenberg plays James Brennan, a kid who just graduated from high school and is supposed to be heading off to Europe for the summer before heading to Columbia in the fall. When his parents, tell him that James’ father is being transferred to Pittsburgh (my home town, woot!), and basaically down-sized in his company; he has to give up his hopes for Europe and find a job to pay his own way into college. James has no skills to speak of and isn’t “even qualified for manual labor” as he says in one scene. So, he goes with a job offered via a friend, named Frigo, at Adventureland – the local theme park. It’s here he meets the people in charge, married couple Bobby (Bill Hader, rocking a monster mustache) and Paulette (Kristen Wiig, being hilarious by not really doing much at all). They assign James to work Games, where he meets and befriends Joel (played by Martin Starr, who is probably more famous as the bearded friend of Seth Rogen’s in KNOCKED UP), and is also introduced to Em, who is played by Kristen Stewart – in a role quite the opposite of her now more notorious character Bella in the TWILIGHT series. Opposite, in that Em is far more developed, mature and an actual woman who makes mistakes and is fallible without being a caricature.

The movie follows these people through their summer of 1987, working at the theme park, their nights afterward partying and drinking and having (or trying to have) sex. As with any movie set during the summer when kids are away from their parents, Adventureland has it’s own idyllic idols that each sex admires, envies or just lusts after. For the girls it’s the park’s maintenance man Connell (Ryan Reynolds), who is married but is known to have wandering eyes, and an available room in his mom’s basement. For the guys it’s Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva), a young girl who seemingly likes to act like she’s mature and sexually open, but really just likes to taunt the boys with her looks and Madonna-lite dance moves. Needless to say, James winds up falling for Em, and we get some hijinks related to his awkwardness in trying to woo her. (Like the swimming scene that leads to him being pointed out for having an erection – this also..ahem..comes up again later.) Then there’s the added complication of both of our young lovers being chosen by the “desirable ones”, for their own little escapades.

The major reason why this movie works is Jesse Eisenberg. He’s believable as the bumbling geek, who tries to be cool, but also doesn’t mind being different. He looks authentic in his nervousness and bumbling way of delivering lines, and doesn’t seem as goofy as certain other actors that get compared to Eisenberg a lot. But, the supporting cast also helps. Stewart, in this movie shows us again why she’s one of the best young actors right now, with the role of Em, and all the reasons that I’ve stated on why this character is appealing, engaging and in the end sympathetic. But, it’s mostly in the rest of the cast that the humor really comes from. Starr is brilliant as the iconoclastic, intellectual – who in one scene is told by a girl she can’t see him because he’s jewish, to which he responds, “but I’m an atheist, maybe more of a pragmatic nihilist I guess or an existential pagan if you will…” So, that’s the kind of high-level humor to expect from Martin Starr – and it works. Hader and Wiig, co-stars on the current run of SNL, work fantastic together. There’s a scene from the trailer – that I’m sure will be in the one posted below – where Hader is announcing the horse race game, and we see Paulette mouthing the same words that Bobby is yelling out. Then she says, “this is how we met”.

Overall, though it’s a strong contender for picking up where the recently departed John Hughes left off. It’s full of real people, with problems, wants and needs, and the characters learning their way in the world instead of it just seeming scripted and telling us the same story we’ve seen a million times. So, do yourself a favor and go see it. It’s one of those movies – like 500 DAYS OF SUMMER and THE BROTHERS BLOOM – that makes 2009 a great year for small, romantic movies that tread on a slightly different path.

And I feel like I’d be remiss in not mentioning that this movie was shot in Pittsburgh – as I did mention, actually – but that the theme park that stands in for Adventureland, is Pittsburgh’s own local theme park called Kennywood. And this movie really makes me want to go. And you should all come here and enjoy that too. 🙂

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