The First Time

First TimeThe very sweet teen romance written and directed by Jon Kasdan (son of filmmaker Lawrence Kasdan) is disarmingly honest, with characters that feel so real there isn’t the hint of artifice.  Centered around two teens who meet by accident, become friends, and each decide to give up their virginity to the other, this film will leave you with a warm, gooey feeling that makes it a worthwhile viewing experience.

Aubrey Miller (Britt Robertson) is a junior in high school.  Leaving a party, she sees Dave Hodgman (Dylan O’Brien), a senior at a different high school, rehearsing a declaration of love for his longtime friend, Jane (Victoria Justice).  In spite of herself, she coaches him on how to do it right, explaining several times that she has a boyfriend and that she hates public displays of affection.  When the party gets busted, he walks Aubrey home and they talk about themselves and what they want to do with their lives.  At the door, she invites him inside and he is blown away by the collages that fill her bedroom.  They have some wine and end up falling alseep on the floor curled up together.

The next morning, they are awakened by a knock on her door.  Panicked, Dave spills a wine glass on his way out the window.  Her parents (Joshua Malina and Christine Taylor) lecture her about drinking, but Aubrey convinces them that its better for her to be drinking at home than at a party or driving.  Through friends, Dave is able to get her home phone number and calls her up, wanting to see her again.  She tells him that she’s going to see a movie with her boyfriend, Ronny (James Frecheville), an older guy who is rather obnoxious.  After the movie, one of their friends invites them to a party at her parents’ house and they all go.

During the party, Ronny tells Dave that he is going to have sex with Aubrey later that night and Dave is depressed that her first time should be with such a putz.  He gets some time alone with Jane, but finds that he is no longer interested in her.  Driving around on his own, he gets a call from Aubrey, who has broken up with Ronnie.  He picks her up and they each reveal that they have feelings for the other.  At her door, they kiss passionately.  The next morning, they go out with his little sister, Stella (Maggie Elizabeth Jones), who approves of their relationship.

Aubrey finds out that her parents will be out for the evening, so she invites Dave over.  Although they are passionate at first, when Aubrey gets a condom for him, everything slows down and they both become extremely nervous about having sex for the first time, which leads to an unfortunate experience.  Afterwards, they are both depressed and when he leaves, she tells him that she will call, but they both have the feeling that it is over.  Each waiting for the other call, they obsess about their feelings for each other.

Eventually, as she prepares to leave for school, Dave shows up.  Once again, he’s been rehearsing what he wants to say to her, but it comes out simply: he likes talking to her and he wants to keep talking to her and maybe they can figure out what happens next along the way.  She asks him for a ride to school and they talk about maybe doing everything better in the future.  In spite of her hatred of public displays of emotion, she says to hell with it and kisses him passionately outside her school.

There are several reasons why the movie is successful.

One of them is Kasdan’s script, which is so incredibly simple that it really tugs at the viewer’s heart.  Many script writers of teen romances try to complicate the story by throwing in all kinds of unnecessary complications, but Kasdan relies on being a teenager as all the complication required and it works amazingly well.  His direction is also simple, very clean, with lots of long two-shots where the actors are allowed to carry the story without any gimmicks.

The other reason for the movie’s success is the performance of its two leads.  Dylan O’Brien gives us a character who is incredibly innocent, who wants so much to be in love that he targets his best friend, without realizing how different they are.  Britt Robertson creates a character in Aubrey who sees the world through cynical eyes, but ultimately wants nothing more than to be with someone who cares about her.  They are both rock-solid performances, completely believable, and ultimately very likeable, creating terrific chemistry together.

This film is short, simple, very well-made, and very heartfelt, with just enough comedy to offset the deeper emotions that it evokes.

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The Breakfast Club

Breakfast ClubYelling one minute, giggling the next, while cool music plays throughout.  Welcome to The Breakfast Club, John Hughes’ 1985 comedy-drama about five teenagers confined to a Saturday detention in the Shermer High School library in Shermer, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.

Each one of the five kids represents a different kind of high school culture.  Although wrestler Andrew Clark (Emilio Estevez), teen beauty Claire Standish (Molly Ringwald), and brainy Brian Johnson (Anthony Michael Hall) come from wealthy families, they each represent a separate segment of high school society.  Likewise, rebellious John Bender (Judd Nelson) and spooky Allison Reynolds (Ally Sheedy) come from the wrong side of the tracks, but one is brash and outgoing while the other is quiet and shy.

The teacher who rides herd on the five of them is Richard “Dick” Vernon (Paul Gleason), an assistant principal who is rough and disillusioned with his profession.  The only other adult character of any consequence is the philosophical janitor, Carl Reed (John Kapelos) who enlightens both Dick and the kids.

John creates the drama as he pushes against the rich kids and makes fun of the dork, both strutting his anger at coming from a poor, ignorant family and concealing his own fear for his future.  He teases Claire about being a virgin, Andrew about being a dumb jock, and Brian about not fitting in.  As the day goes on, they gradually become friends, laughing, dancing, shouting, and opening up about their deepest truths and fears.

There isn’t much of a plot here, but that’s not important.  Most of the movie dedicates itself to the theme that in spite of outside differences, we’re all pretty much the same, a pretty good message in any time or place.  The generous ensemble script allows room for each character to bloom.

Most of the acting is excellent, although the emotional outbursts now seem a little over the top, as are the stock characters.  The movie is really excellent except when it tries to go deep.  Of the five teens, Ally Sheedy really stands out as the best and that is partly because her character doesn’t fit into a mold and partly because she infuses it with a great deal of originality.

The best part of the film is the comedy and when it’s good, it’s really laugh out loud good and it carries the movie beyond the simple teen angst that colors the drama.  A fun movie.  At an hour and a half, the timing is perfect and it is almost impossible to stop watching once you start, always a sign that a movie is doing its job.

The Spectacular Now

Shailine Woodley int The Spectacular NowThe Spectacular Now aims much higher than any run-of-the-mill teen romance and its success in achieving a film that goes beyond the limits of genre is to be highly commended, yet there are problems in the movie and it would make the film an excellent study for any film theory class.  Because this is a special film in many ways, this review contains spoilers, so beware if you haven’t seen the movie.

Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) is a high school senior who is the life of the party.  His girlfriend, Cassidy (Brie Larson), just happens to be the coolest girl in school.  He sits down at his computer to answer an essay question for a college entrance exam.  What was your greatest challenge and how did you face it?

His answer centers around how Cassidy has just dumped him.  Always helpful, he had been trying to set up a friend with a girl, but she happened to come with another girl and he just happened to be sitting with her in his car at lakeside drinking when Cassidy discovered them.  He’s almost always drinking, but he doesn’t see that as a problem and he figures that he’ll get Cassidy back pretty quickly, but she has already hooked up with the star athlete, Marcus (Dayo Okeniyi) and has left Sutter in her dust.

He goes out to party and ends up enormously drunk.  The next morning, he is awakened by a girl who finds him laying in someone’s yard passed out.  The girl, Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley) is also a senior at his school, although he doesn’t remember her name.  A semi-geeky girl who likes science fiction and graphic novels, Aimee is way too normal for Sutter, but he can’t find his car so he helps her do her mother’s paper route and ends up having a lot of fun.  He asks her out to lunch, then to a party.  He still isn’t over Cassidy, but she can no longer deal with his lack of ambition and drinking.  Aimee, who has never had a boyfriend, is just happy that he likes her.  He might be a good student, but he just doesn’t care.  There is a certain ennui about him, even though he puts up a good front.  Part of his problem is that his mother, Sara (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a single parent and she keeps him apart from his father.  Sutter remembers playing baseball with his dad and completely blames his mother for “kicking him out of the house.”  His sister, Holly (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is married to a lawyer, doesn’t really care about their father.

Aimee falls in love with Sutter, but he continues to drift, fantasizing about getting back together with Cassidy.  He gradually comes to love Aimee as well, but he does not think he is good enough for her.  The sad thing is that he’s right.  Sutter doesn’t know what to do with himself.  He’s drifting through high school, he doesn’t want next year to happen, and he doesn’t want to make any plans.  In a scene with Cassidy, she begs him to think about the future, but he tells her that all that matters is the “now,” enjoying each moment as it happens.

Accepted into a college in Philadelphia, Aimee tells him that she can’t go because her mother won’t let her so they make a pact: if Aimee will stand up to her mother about going to college, then Sutter will confront his own mother about seeing his dad.  He asks her to the prom and gets her to start drinking alcohol, giving her a personalized flask when he picks her up.  Later, she tells him that she has decided to go to Philadelphia and tells him he should go there with her, that they could get a place together and get jobs while she goes to school.  He doesn’t commit himself to it, but he also doesn’t tell her “no.”  Marcus confronts Sutter about Cassidy, but Sutter tells him that there’s nothing between them.  When Marcus wishes he could make her laugh like Sutter does, Sutter advises him that all he needs to do is relax, to live in the “now.”

When Aimee badgers him into investigating his father, Holly finally gives him the phone number.  Sutter calls his dad (Kyle Chandler) and arranges a meeting, bringing Aimee with him when he goes to visit, but when he discovers that his father is an alcoholic skirt chaser, he sees his own future.  Depressed, he drinks heavily as he drives them back home.  Aimee tries to comfort him, telling him that she loves him, but he belligerently tells her to get out of the car.  When she does, she gets hit by another car.

Although she’s not seriously injured, Sutter’s depression reaches a whole new level.  They graduate, but he feels no joy in it.  She waits at the bus station for him to join her, but he drives by and lets her go off on her own.  Drunk again, he plows down the mailbox in front of his house and gets into a violent argument with his mother.  When he screams at her that she doesn’t love him, she comforts him and tells him that he is a gentle and giving man.  Sutter breaks down and sobs in her arms.

Confronting the computer screen and the question of what his greatest challenge is and how he overcame it, he types in a confession that he is his own greatest problem and that it is a problem he must solve every day going forward, finally recognizing that the “now” will come again tomorrow.  In the final scene, he joins Aimee in Philadelphia.

Even though this film is riddled with problems, there are also many things to like about it.  There is a simplicity in the script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (adapted from the novel of the same name by Tim Tharp) that is quite engaging and the realistic approach of director James Ponsoldt keeps the viewer constantly involved in the story.  Sutter is a complex person and I have to give high marks to the creative team for making such a deeply layered character and wonderfully consistent throughout the entire film.  Surely, the temptation to make the film a pure romance must have been quite strong, but the movie works hard to keep Sutter real and to deal realistically with his problem, which is immense for a boy of his age.

It is dramatic, it contains a theme that is built and explored in a way that many other films should aspire to, it is very carefully written and well-thought out.

In addition, there are a couple of excellent performances in the movie by Jennifer Jason Leigh (I didn’t even recognize her) as Sutter’s mother and Kyle Chandler as his father.  Each of these actors brings a depth and a reality to their roles that goes even beyond the well-crafted script.  All of the other supporting actors do a good job as well.

The problems are mostly in the production, but one problem in the writing really holds the movie back.  There is nothing likable about Sutter.  As I watched the movie, it was easy to identify him as the protagonist and to feel a certain amount of angst for him, but the writers did nothing to help me like him or really care about him.  My first instinct was to blame the performance of Miles Teller, but I realized at some point that the story should have shown something else to make me care about what happened to him.  That was missing.

Shailene Woodley gives a fine performance as Aimee, but I believe she may have been miscast.  Given the beauty of the actress and Aimee’s terrific personality, I found it simply impossible to believe that she never had a boyfriend or that she was a wall flower.  Girls that special rise to the top because those around them inevitably recognize what’s great about them and give them a special position in the social order.  In fact, Aimee is so special that it is really difficult to believe that in her isolation she could love someone like Sutter.

In his desire to make the movie realistic, I believe that Ponsoldt must have encouraged Teller and Woodley to improvise much of their dialogue because it seems so genuine, however, the constant use of “awesome” and “amazing” and “cool” becomes almost funny at some points.  Sure, it’s probably realistic.  One can imagine real teens talking this way, but it sure makes them seem a lot less intelligent.  There should be an argument on this point because the question of realistic dialogue comes up over and over again.  My own personal opinion is that the clever screenwriter will use just enough teen clichés to make the dialogue believable, but back off before it becomes a running gag.  I think what happened in this movie was improvisation on the actor’s parts.  I don’t know that for a fact, but it feels that way.  Good and bad.

The ending probably should have been retooled as well.

Although the scene of Sutter writing his new answer is effective, I never had the feel of a real denouement, a crystal moment of realization in which Sutter knows how he needs to change his life and dedicates himself to doing so.  Maybe it is more realistic that he has a hint of what he needs to do and points himself in the right direction, but in the interval between breaking down with his mother and writing his new answer, I would have liked to see something that really gave him a positive direction.

Even given all of these problems, I still recommend this film, not only to film students, but to people who want to see a teen romance that has some backbone to it, a film that challenges itself to do better and makes a very positive footprint in the right direction.

The good outweighs the bad.

Pretty in Pink

Pretty-in-Pink-Duckie-AndieIt’s very rare in the realm of popular movies (outside of period pieces) that costumes play a major role, but Marilyn Vance is largely responsible for the success of the 1986 John Hughes script Pretty in Pink.  The third of the “Brat Pack” trilogy of movies, following Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, it closely resembles the first film, Sixteen Candles, and if Hughes had had his way by casting Anthony Michael Hall in the pivotal role of Duckie, it might have been even closer.

The following review contains total plot spoilers, so beware.

The film is about a high school  senior, Andie (Molly Ringwald), with a great fashion sense.  Coming from the poor side of the tracks–a fact that is bluntly stated in the opening shot when the camera actually crosses the said tracks–Andie lives with her father (Harry Dean Stanton) and struggles against the conformity in her high school.  By frequenting thrift shops, she puts together an amazingly fresh and offbeat ensemble every day.  Of course, the rich girls at her school are complete snobs and they all wear expensive (or looks expensive) clothing and they make fun of her attire.  Her best friend, since they were kids, Phil “Duckie” Dale (Jon Cryer) is also loose from head to toe, wearing outfits as outlandish as Andie’s are stylish.  Also poor and outside the circle of the rich kids, he follows Andie around like a puppy dog and seems oblivious that she’s not interested in him romantically.

In spite of her outcast status among the girls at school, she seems to be an object of interest to some of the wealthiest boys, including Steff (James Spader), who she rejects near the beginning of the movie, and Blane (Andrew McCarthy), who seriously interests her.  She works at a record store called Trax, for a beautiful, outlandish girl in her thirties, Iona (Annie Potts) and she seeks Iona’s advice a lot.  Blane shows up at the store one day and seems to be returning Andie’s feelings.  When he asks her to go out with him, Duckie is cut to the quick, goes into a serious depression, and even backs out of his friendship with her.

Blane takes her to a party at Steff’s where the girls’ antipathy toward her is obvious and makes her totally uncomfortable.  Taking her upstairs, they blunder into a room where Steff is lolling around with the coolest girl in the school, Bunny (Kate Vernon) who makes fun of her.  They leave and go to a club that Andie hangs out at, but Duckie is there with Iona and he picks a fight with Blane, so they leave.  He asks her to the prom and she gets excited about going with him.  They commit themselves to the relationship, but Steff keeps bothering Blane about it until Blane finally backs out and embarrasses Andie in school.

Her father buys her a pretty ugly prom dress and she combines it with Iona’s old prom dress to make a new creation that is pretty cool.  She goes to the prom alone, but sees Duckie there and they go into the prom together.  Blane, who has also come alone, both apologizes and at the same time blames her for their relationship not working and tells her that he loves her.  In a reversal of character, Duckie tells her to go after Blane, then a beautiful girl, the Duckete (Kristy Swanson) gets his attention and he’s off with her.  The movie ends with Blane kissing Andie in the parking lot.

If some of this plot seems a little muddled, it’s partly because the entire ending was re-written and re-shot after preview audiences booed the ending.  In the original script, Andie ends up with Duckie.  It’s really weird and creates a lot of confusion.  For one thing, the entire film has built toward Blane’s complete screw up with Andie and her moving beyond him–and that includes his blaming her at the end for something that was entirely his own fault.  How she could go with him after that is anybody’s guess.  Part of the issue, too, is that while her friendship with Duckie is strong and deep, there isn’t any romantic attraction on her part, which negates the original ending.  In an interview on the DVD, Molly Ringwald admits that Robert Downy, Jr. almost got the role of Duckie and that she had a strong chemistry with him that would have made the original ending work, but that she herself did not like ending up with Jon Cryer because they didn’t have any kind of romantic chemistry.

So the ending is compounded by multiple mistakes and it really screws up an otherwise engaging, funny, and hip movie.

The script by John Hughes was written for Molly Ringwald and the character of Andie is fully realized, fueled by a dynamic and engaging performance by the actress.  The direction by first time director Howard Deutch is loose and fun.  He creates a great little, believable world for Hughes’ characters to inhabit.  Jon Cryer is outstanding as Duckie, always funny and charming.  Harry Dean Stanton is terrific as Andie’s father and Annie Potts gives an amazing performance as Iona–probably the best performance of her career.  James Spader is both beautiful and slimy, a combination that he has made into lifetime’s work.  And the cast is sprinkled with terrific cameos, including Andrew Dice Clay, Dweezil Zappa, and Kristy Swanson.

Molly Ringwald and Jon Cryer’s costumes are wonderful.  The only other movie I can think of that made such a fresh fashion statement was Woody Allen’s Annie Hall.  The use of pink in all of Molly’s costumes tactfully underscores the title of the movie and every outfit is innovative and fun.  The final ingredient that makes the movie special is the well chosen soundtrack that captures that great late eighties indie rock sound.

The DVD contains many special features that enhance viewing pleasure and they go into fine detail on the problems of the ending.

Even though the movie is deeply derivative of Hughes’ earlier success Sixteen Candles, it remains fresh and charming, but the uncertainty of the filmmakers regarding the ending creates a true confusion that was simply never addressed, either by Hughes or Deutch, and that makes it difficult to enjoy.

Even so, I highly recommend this movie for an evening’s light entertainment.

F

Fargo Frances McDormandFargo

Alfred Hitchcock would have liked this 1996 Joel Coen and Ethan Coen quirky thriller that contains so much comedy it transcends genres.  It borrows a number of techniques from the master of thriller movies, including a clever McGuffin, a villain with empathy, horrific incidents that are hilarious, and a tremendous environmental atmosphere.


THE FIGHTERThe Fighter

There are just a handful of good boxing movies, but The Fighter must be ranked among them.  This 2010 film written by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson is based on the true story of two brothers who each attained some degree of success in the world of boxing.  There is some stretching of the truth in order to make a good movie—and that is just what director David O. Russell gives us.


First TimeThe First Time

The very sweet teen romance written and directed by Jon Kasdan is disarmingly honest, with characters that feel so real there isn’t the hint of artifice.  Centered around two teens who meet by accident, become friends, and each decide to give up their virginity to the other, this film will leave you with a warm, gooey feeling that makes it a worthwhile viewing experience.


Fly Away PictureFly Away

Written and directed by Emmy Award winner Janet Grillo, this 2011 low-budget independent film, shot in a mere 14 days is full of emotional punch and great characters brought to life by a bright and talented cast.


French ConnectionThe French Connection

If you are looking for the meaning of life, this movie is not for you.  Indeed, if you are looking for any meaning at all, this is not your movie.  Rather, it is a completely kinetic film.  Directed by William Friedkin, it echoes the French cinema of the 1950’s, which itself echoes the American gangster films of the 1930’s.  It is all movement and action, with practically no dialogue, moving in a steady arc of energy toward a violent ending.


french kissFrench Kiss

Sometimes the charm of two charismatic actors with great chemistry, combined with a smart, talented director, can make even the most banal of screenplays work to perfection.  Such is the case with Lawrence Kasdan’s 1995 romantic comedy, French Kiss.


Friends with KidsFriends with Kids

This 2011 movie, written, produced and directed by Jennifer Westfeldt, is about a group of shallow, sex-obsessed Manhattan Yuppies who start having children. It stars Adam Scott, Westfeldt, Chris O’Dowd, Kristen Wiig, Jon Hamm and Maya Rudolph.


frozen-river-pic-melissa-leoFrozen River

There are a lot of great movies that somehow never make it into the public eye and Frozen River is one of those films.  It deserves to be seen–and probably deserved a lot more national attention than what it actually got.

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Nick and Norah PhotoWhen a movie has as its basis such an incredible novel as Rachel Cohn and David Levithan’s Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, there should be no way that it could fail, yet this insipid teen comedy manages to toss aside all of the best stuff from the novel, including, amazingly, some of the best comedy.  It changes the course of events, and ends without a single note of the beauty that gave the book such raw power.

Cute, geeky Nick (Michael Cera) mopes around his house in suburban New Jersey, leaving long voice mails and making mix disks for his ex-girlfriend Tris (Alexis Dziena), a beautiful senior at a Catholic high school. Nick plays bass in an indie band called “The Jerk Offs” with gay musicians Dev (Rafi Gavron) and Thom (Aaron Yoo) who beg him to play this gig they have lined up and look for clues to the “secret” show that the band “Where’s Fluffy” will be playing somewhere in NYC later that night.  At the Catholic school, Norah (Kat Dennings) plans the evening with her ditzy friend Caroline (Ari Graynor) and tries to avoid Tris.  When Tris throws away the latest “break-up mix” CD from Nick, Norah picks it out of the trash, as she has done many times before, because she loves the way he mixes songs.  Even though she’s never met him, she knows she likes him because of the CDs.

They all show up at The Jerk Offs’ gig, Norah hits on Nick, Caroline gets drunk, and Tris shows up with her new boyfriend. Dev and Thom offer to give Caroline a ride home while Nick takes Norah out in his Yugo to look for Where’s Fluffy.  An evening of hijinks ensues as Norah avoids her ex, Tal (Jay Baruchel), Tris tries to get Nick back, and the gay guys drive around in the band’s van, losing Caroline, hooking back up with Nick and Norah, looking for Caroline, and getting back together.  When they finally locate the Where’s Fluffy show, Tal claims Norah, Tris claims Nick, and are both rejected as Nick and Norah head off on their own.

The movie itself is a failure on its own merits. It’s not funny or charming or even remotely romantic.  However, when compared against the original novel, it must be seen as one of the most seriously blown opportunities in the history of filmmaking.

The novel is steeped in punk music, not indie music, and the writing makes the reader feel like they are inside the insane mosh pit. Nick is an edgy bass player in the group called The Fuck Offs, not a cute, geeky guy.  The miscasting of Michael Cera, perhaps the result of the hideous screenplay by Lorene Scafaria or the Happy Days directing of Peter Sollett, dooms the movie from the very beginning and keeps it dredging the bottom throughout the 90 minutes of the film.  The gay sexuality in the book, which was absolutely electric, is completely absent and the homosexual characters are made to look like harmless dolts.  The book had serious balls on teenage gays, but the movie totally emasculates them.  One of the best characters in the book, Tony, the transvestite bouncer dressed in a Playboy bunny costume was cut from the movie.

There is breathless feeling in the novel, partly derived from the thrashing punk and partly from the sparks that fly back and forth between Nick and Norah. The movie has no spark to it at all.  Where the novel thrashed, the movie bounces.  The plot of the book bowls along on a story arc that is lightning tight, but the film plot is unnecessarily convoluted, mostly because Dev, Thom, and Caroline and brought back time and again.  When it should have been focussed on Nick and Norah, it was wasting its time trying to be funny and failing miserably.

The one bright spot in the movie is Kat Dennings’ performance as Norah. While the filmmakers eviscerated Nick, they almost left Norah her own quirky self.  She also has the best line in the movie when she calls The Jerk Offs a fistful of assholes and Dev and Thom realize they’ve just found a new name for the band.  (That’s not in the book.)

Don’t waste your time on this movie. Read the book.

My review of the book is located at Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan.

Adventureland

AdventurelandAdventureland is a funny and moving teen romance written and directed by Greg Mattola about a group of teens working at a summer carnival. The main character, James Brennan, is a student who has just graduated from a small college and is saving up his money to go to the Columbia School of Journalism so he can begin a career in travel writing. Played with both humor and angst by Jesse Eisenberg, James is trying to find romance, but his own geekiness stands in his way.

It doesn’t take long after meeting Em for him to start falling for her. Older and wiser, she is a student who lives and studies in New York (NYU) during the school year, but works as a carny in the summer. She’s also having an affair with Mike (Ryan Reynolds), a guitar player who also fills in there in the summer as a maintenance man. Married, his one claim to fame is that he is rumored to have jammed with Lou Reed, James’ hero.

The film is a period piece, set in the summer of 1987 and Mattola has gone to great lengths to make the film of its time. The park seems quite old by today’s standards and the costumes and hair styles all reflect the late 80’s very well. Although some of the humor is a bit juvenile, it generally works well. The supporting characters are sharply defined and quirky. Kristen Wiig as the park manager and Bill Hader as her husband and assistant are both quite funny and Martin Starr is quite good as James’ pal Joel.

Both Eisenberg and Stewart are very good and this is probably Stewart’s best performance. They are the only two characters in the movie who have serious scenes and they carry them off very well. It’s a fun movie and worth spending the time watching.