The Films of Greg Mottola
Superbad (July 24/07)
Though he's only listed as a producer this time around, Judd Apatow's unique comedic sensibilities are all over Superbad and the movie consequently fits comfortably within the context of his free-wheeling, thoroughly distinctive body of work. Written by Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg, the film transpires over the course of one very long night - as high school buddies Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) encounter a whole host of obstacles and quirky characters while attempting to procure alcohol for a graduation party. There's little doubt that Superbad works best in its relatively low-key opening scenes, which feature an emphasis on Seth and Evan's raunchy (and often hilarious) conversations; armed with the screenplay's clever, unmistakably R-rated dialogue, Cera and Hill infuse the early part of the movie with a palpable sense of authenticity that proves impossible to resist. It's only when the characters are split up during the film's episodic mid-section that one's interest starts to flag, as it becomes increasingly difficult to care about their individual misadventures (ie Evan is forced to belt out a tune for a room full of stoners). And although the movie does recover for an admittedly effective finale, there's simply no denying that Superbad is simply unable to hold the viewer's interest through the entirety of its distinctly overlong running time.
Set in 1987, Adventureland follows bright college graduate James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) as he reluctantly agrees to take on a job at a low-rent amusement park to pay the bills - with the bulk of the proceedings subsequently revolving around his various misadventures within the title locale's sprawling grounds (as well as his attempts at wooing Kristen Stewart's spunky Em Lewin). Director Greg Mottola has infused Adventureland with a laid-back sensibility that inevitably proves an ideal complement to his unapologetically uneventful screenplay, and there's little doubt that the pervasively authentic atmosphere proves instrumental in initially holding the viewer's interest (ie Mottola effectively captures the circa-1980s landscape without resorting to over-the-top tricks or gimmicks). Eisenberg's winning work as the central character certainly perpetuates the low-key yet likeable vibe, with his efforts ably (and agreeably) assisted by a uniformly appealing supporting cast that includes Martin Starr, Ryan Reynolds, and Bill Hader. There comes a point, however, at which the increasingly plotless bent of Mottola's script becomes oppressive, as the filmmaker's relentlessly episodic modus operandi is ultimately hindered by the inclusion of several eye-rollingly predictable plot threads (a fake break-up? Really?) It’s consequently not surprising to note that the positive vibes established by Mottola and his cast are inevitably rendered moot as the movie limps towards its exceedingly anti-climactic conclusion, with the end result a weak coming-of-age story that's simply unable to bring anything new to the well-worn genre.
Paul follows a pair of British sci-fi enthusiasts (Simon Pegg's Graeme and Nick Frost's Clive) as they encounter and befriend an actual alien (Seth Rogen's Paul) while touring various UFO hotspots, with the movie subsequently detailing the road trip that ensues as Graeme and Clive attempt to deliver Paul to a meeting spot while avoiding the relentless pursuit of several dogged agents (including Jason Bateman's Zoil and Bill Hader's Haggard). It's an irresistibly off-kilter premise that's employed to pervasively watchable (yet far from engrossing) effect by filmmaker Greg Mottola, as the director does a nice job of initially capturing the viewer's interest by emphasizing the back-and-forth banter between Pegg and Frost's respective characters - with the actors' palpable chemistry together ultimately ensuring that the movie is at its best when focused on their low-key exploits. Paul's episodic midsection plays an instrumental role in perpetuating the film's decidedly uneven atmosphere, however, and there's little doubt that certain sequences ultimately fare a whole lot better than others (ie it's hard to work up much enthusiasm for the protagonists' uneventful trip to a small town). The sedate atmosphere also ensures that the action-heavy climax can't help but feel a little out of place, as the movie is, for the most part, a talk-heavy endeavor that seems content to remain within the confines of Graeme and Clive's motor home. It's finally clear that Paul falls right in line with Mottola's affable yet unspectacular prior efforts, with the film elevated by the charisma of the various actors and by the enjoyably tongue-in-cheek nature of Pegg and Frost's screenplay.