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Crossing Over

Written and directed by Wayne Kramer
Thirteen years after making a short film of the same name, writer/director Wayne Kramer (“The Cooler,” “Running Scared”) has revisited the topic for a feature that feels like three or four shorts spliced together. Unfortunately the outcome makes me wish they could be separated again and shown one after the other, with their respective overlaps encountered sequentially.

“Crossing Over” is the latest film to tell a story that weaves multiple lives, with a common theme that connects them. It’s successful on some levels, but it also suffers the fate of other similarly-structured films in that some of those connections have a small-worldiness that is almost distracting (I’m reminded of 1998’s “Dog Park,” which connected people in Los Angeles as though they lived in a village of 20).  

The theme this time is immigration. “Crossing Over” attempts to be for immigration what “Crash” (2004) was for racism, which is a shame given that “Crash” played like an after-school special (“I’ve been a racist my whole life but my maid helped me when I fell and now I’m cured!”). To some extent it’s actually more successful than “Crash” because it isn’t preaching on content that’s quite so well established. Yet it trips over itself by trying to inject too many angles beyond the fundamental immigrant experience.  

It’s often said that certain minority experiences can only be fully understood and appreciated by others with shared backgrounds. Perhaps the most interesting outcome of “Crossing Over” is the suggestion that the illegal alien experience is one of these shared-circumstances. I’ve seen this happen with a roomful of military “brats” watching a documentary about growing up in service families. As an immigrant myself, I can relate to the sense of powerlessness and vulnerability it entails , just as I recognized my Royal Air Force upbringing in the earlier screening.

However, at the narrative level, the twisted stories have been told better, separately, in multiple films over the past year or so: “Under the Same Moon” (a mother and son separated by the Mexican border), the excellent “The Visitor” (the vulnerability of the undocumented and legal callous disregard), “Towelhead” (cultural suspicions and fear), and “Gran Torino” (youth alienation and gang influences).  A talented cast (including Harrison Ford, Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd, and Jim Sturgess) make “Crossing Over” pleasantly watchable, but can’t ultimately save it.

“Crossing Over” is a much better starting point for a conversation about immigration than it is an inherently worthwhile movie-watching experience. But a trip to the video store with a copy of this paragraph would be far better.

Adventureland
Written and directed by Greg Mottola
“Adventureland” is a movie I almost loved but instead had to settle for really liking. Imagine a story about a man who gives up on the idea that chance will ever favor him or that he could ever be lucky again. In the end, he regains his faith in good fortune and buys a lottery ticket. That act demonstrates his change of heart. We don’t need to see whether he wins or not.

James (Jesse Eisenberg – drama’s counterpart to comedy’s Micheal Cera) had planned a post-college summer exploring Europe, but his hopes are dashed when his father’s demotion results in the loss of his cash graduation gift. With no marketable skills, he finds himself working the games booths at the local amusement park alongside an assortment of equally unenthusiastic colleagues. The outcome is an amusing and touching summer of life lessons and romantic missteps involving the love interest (Kristen Stewart), the dorky colleague and mentor (Martin Starr), and the quasi-legendary older dude (Ryan Reynolds).   

“Adventureland” manages to capture a sense of time, place, and experience that is somewhat reminiscent of films like “Dazed and Confused” and “Almost Famous.” But it’s a slightly-removed sense of authenticity in that it feels more like the reminiscence of a memorable summer than merely an observance of one. Certain key characters (for example, the park’s owners, played by Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig) seem genuine, yet also slightly undeveloped in the manner in which one might recount their existence to others many years later (“I remember this time when…”). This is James’ story, and we only know the others to the extent that he did (or that writer/director Greg Mottola did).

I left “Adventureland” with an uneasy feeling that it had progressed one scene too far and I might have preferred it if it had stopped five minutes earlier. That said, I’d still recommend it, especially to those who had formative but menial seasonal jobs. It’s an easy sell for me – as somebody who teaches about the business side of recreation, I enjoyed the setting of the movie. I’m also a fan of well-executed coming of age movies—not necessarily “first sexual experience” movies, but movies in which characters reach a moment of significant realization regarding the human experience, at any point in life. After all, one “can come of age” at any age. (Opens April 3)


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