I’m going to give you two quick examples of a very special kind of scene in the movies. Do you remember Woody Allen and Diane Keaton, after they finish their tennis game in “Annie Hall”? Of course, being them, they chattered all the way – but try to remember the way they moved. Now think, maybe, of Adam Sandler and Emily Watson, after dinner and drinks, heading back to her hotel room in the film “Punch Drunk Love”. Not a word was spoken that time; but somehow, the walk was the same.
These couples FLOAT. I don’t think I can better describe this phenomenon – either in the movies, or in life – without diminishing it. If you’ve taken that walk even once in your life, count yourself fortunate; and you’ll recognize it in a new film, called “Adventureland”.
The film is the follow-up film from Greg Mattola, the director of “Superbad” (he even wrote this one himself). He has the tremendous good fortune to be working with Jessie Eisenberg, late of the wonderful “The Squid and the Whale,” a dead ringer for Dave Stoller from “Breaking Away”.
Eisenberg’s character, James, has mastered the English language, but doesn’t use it for showy irony or to over-emphasize his vocabulary to mask sexual insecurities. Though he’s a college-aged virgin, he’s not ashamed of that – even though it cost him his last girlfriend. As we’ll find out later, he has a quiet certainty and strength when it comes to love and sex.
James’ dad has been downsized, so James’ future at Columbia in New York City is very much in doubt. He takes a summer job at Adventureland, the sleazy, vomit-encrusted, not-so-fun local theme park, where the paint is peeling from the rotting risers of the wooden rollercoaster, and the tilt-a-whirl looks like it might, at any moment, fling you into the sun.
The only bright spot – and by bright spot, I mean a supernova – is Em (Kristen Stewart, who made such an impression as the hillbilly Lolita in “Into the Wild,” then brought fame upon herself with the hormone-soaked, cynical “Twlilight”). She’s gangly and coltish, a pixie-nosed gamine with hurtin’ eyes – quite the most incredible sight James has ever seen. She’s just as whip-smart as him, and she enjoys entwining her sentences with his, like fingers laced together. James is cute (not Ryan Reynolds male-model cute, but Elliot Gould cute). Now stir in his romanticism, his honest directness, his romantic soul, and his ultra-rare self-confidence, and surely Em’s a goner, too. Right? Right? We sure hope so.
Like Adam Sandler and Emily Watson, James and Em don’t need a lot of talk. It doesn’t take long until they’re chastely half-naked, in a pool, at a party. Nothing arises from that, except a temporary and embarrassing condition that James has trouble hiding.
But that supercharged scene is nowhere near the most potent of the erotic reveries that lift large portions of the film out of the mundane and into the clouds. It’s the way James and Em move through the world together. They do that with such ease, like old dance partners, because they are going to the same place, even though no destination has been discussed or is in mind, because that destination is simply the future.
There’s a scene in a car. Em is driving at night, the window down, her hair blowing. James is slumped down in the passenger seat, watching her. He tears his eyes away. And then: the confidence wells within him, and he looks back, now openly staring. She does not acknowledge this. But she is aware of him. She lets him look. You could power Las Vegas on what’s passing between them.
Is there such a thing as love at first sight? I say there should be more words for love than there are (apocryphally) Eskimo words for snow. In all of those words, surely there’s one which describes a spontaneous recognition, in another person, of something a lot more than just desirable genes: someone who gently fits against you without a seam.