You probably know Jesse Eisenberg best for his work in The Social Network, which earned him an Oscar nomination, and perhaps for being cast as Lex Luthor in the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (and maybe in The Suicide Squad too!). Before he was capable of playing billionaire tech wizards or criminal masterminds, however, Eisenberg made his mark playing awkward young adults, as his boyish physique suggests.
Adventureland and Zombieland both came out in 2009, the former in April and the latter in October. The movies are not necessarily that “hidden” — Zombieland actually made over $100 million worldwide. Moreover, both films seem to pop up on television on a regular basis. Regardless, I felt it was necessary to show the films and their standout stars some love.
Adventureland follows Eisenberg’s James, a college grad who decides to slum it as an amusement park employee to build up his bank account before moving on to his dreams and aspirations. From that point, the movie glides from one personal crisis to another, from one unfulfilled dream to another familial dispute. James falls for Em (Kristen Stewart), who has a complicated history with overqualified, under-motivated Mike (Ryan Reynolds). Bobby (Bill Hader) and Paulette (Kristen Wiig) run the beat-up park with unsurprising dorkiness, and Martin Starr also stands out as the disgruntled Joel.
Considering its slow, mundane plot, the film does an admirable job of flowing from one scene to the next, thanks in large part to the angsty realism of Em, Joel, and James and the killer soundtrack, infused with ’80s jams to match the setting of the story. Really, the plot moves slowly just as the characters do, determined to maintain their pace regardless of societal, parental, or professional pressures to do otherwise. Stuck working at the amusement park, just about everyone wants more than what they have, but only some have faith in their ability to get it. Joel laments unappreciated geniuses and accepts mediocrity, and Mike’s prime seems to be long gone, but James and Em are able to escape, if only to another temporary landing spot. Like the Lou Reed music beloved by many of the characters, the film tends to stay on the lower side, powerful and filled with potential waiting to be unleashed.
Zombieland is bigger than Adventureland — in its earnings, its cast, and its story. Boiled down to a basic premise, the film is simple: Eisenberg’s “Columbus” (calling each other by hometown makes it less painful when they die via zombie attack) is a loner who wants friends and a family. How the movie reaches that point, though, is what brings it into the realm of excellence. For one thing, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin star alongside Eisenberg. “Wichita” (Stone) and Columbus eventually hit it off, of course, but the best part of the film might just be the chemistry between kooky Harrelson and Breslin. Harrelson, who did an excellent job hosting SNL a few days ago, plays “Tallahassee” with zany, Twinkie-loving gusto, and we’re all the better for it.
As you can tell or know already, Zombieland has no interest in frightening or shocking its audience. The zombies never really feel like a threat, instead existing as a means to set off the main characters’ journey. They also provide Columbus with the opportunity to share his hilarious rules of survival in a zombie-infested world. Of course, the best part of the movie for any fun-loving person is (SPOILER BUT NOT REALLY BECAUSE THE MOVIE IS FIVE YEARS OLD NOW) Bill Murray. Murray, playing himself, mocks his career, persona, and Garfield. He comes into the story out of nowhere and immediately reinvigorates what could have otherwise been an underwhelming latter half of the film. Even in death, Murray brings down the house.
In a way, I suppose you could even tie The Social Network in with these films in terms of Eisenberg’s characters. While his Mark Zuckerberg may be more of a, ahem, d%$k, the character still finds himself caught between childhood and adulthood, lonely and closed-off. Now I hope he brings a little more to Lex Luthor, but Eisenberg does shine when he gets to brood and mature, making the neuroticism of these boy-men both hysterical and touching.
images via IMDb