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dir-scr Greg Mottola
prd Anne Carey, Ted Hope, Sidney Kimmel
with Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds, Martin Starr, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Wendie Malick, Jack Gilpin, Margarita Levieva, Matt Bush, Josh Pais, Mary Birdsong
release US 3.Apr.09, UK 11.Sep.09
09/US Miramax 1h47
Throw a ring, win a prize: Eisenberg and Stewart
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
This tender, low-key comedy has echoes of Judd Apatow's style of filmmaking, but with a drier, more reflective edge. It's a bit slight and rambling, but also manages to engage us due to the sharply drawn characters.
In the summer of 1987, James (Eisenberg) is planning a European holiday with his friends before starting university in the autumn. But his parents (Malick and Gilpin) are having financial trouble, so he has to get a job instead at the local theme park. He falls for a coworker, Em (Stewart), and starts to think he might finally lose his perky virginity. But she's involved with the married handyman (Reynolds), and the park bombshell (Levieva) begins to take an interest in James. Clearly everyone has lessons to learn.
Writer-director Mottola is revisiting the same nostalgic territory as his last film, SUPERBAD, and while this isn't nearly as much fun, it's both sweeter and smarter. Even though Eisenberg is essentially playing a less geeky version of Michael Cera, he nicely catches James' intelligence and emotion to make this a more thoughtful coming-of-age film than most. Stewart and Reynolds play the only other characters in this film that aren't either wacky or goofy, and their scenes together and with Eisenberg give the film some badly needed weight.
That said, there isn't much here that we haven't seen before. Mottola keeps things sardonic and dry for the most part, playing on that wistful last summer, which in James' case is marked by a soulless job, romantic carnage and, yes, his first love. There's never any doubt that this is a film about love, not sex. And for a teen movie there's rather a lot of longing glances, inner yearnings and a surprising amount of moralising amid the pot-smoking and sex talk.
But the film catches the late 80s with affection, using warm cinematography, underplayed details and great music. It also has a level of honesty about its characters and situations that makes it well worth seeing, adding a touch of bitterness to undercut the nostalgia. In this way, Mottolla and the cast create characters that are more complex than we expect, but they never find any real surprises in the story.
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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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