James Brennan has a useless degree and botched plans for a European vacation, and he is in jeopardy of losing his spot at graduate school for the fall. Without any other options, Brennan is forced to take a job at Adventureland – Pittsburgh’s most exotic and adventurous destination for fun.
After some brief training with the pipe-smoking introvert. Joel, played perfectly by Martin Starr, Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) navigates the world of amusement park games with a shy glaze of melancholy on his face. That is, until he meets Em, played by Kristen Stewart.
Set in 1987, director Greg Mottola could have easily turned this film into nostalgic cotton candy, with tacky props and song gags to give off a cheap laugh and a weak response. Instead, he has crafted a movie that captures a particular time in young adulthood, that post-collegiate period with one foot in childhood and one foot in adulthood, where everything and nothing are asked of you almost simultaneously.
It’s a time when you can legally get drunk with your friends, yet still get scolded for coming home late.
The end-of-academia, one-last-hoorah movie is well-worn territory, especially for a director who made one of these films two years ago, but Mottola only uses the end of school as a catalyst.
Plugged on television and the Internet as being from the director of “Superbad,” this film is far from the loutish monster that becomes every Jonah Hill comedy. What the commercials for “Adventureland” do not show is a film brewing with intellectualism, sensitivity and a genuine respect for its characters.
Even though they may shadow into the stereotypical, it doesn’t mean that these characters think or even say things beyond themselves. The audience understands that a character like Joel would love Nikolai Gogol or that Sue O’Malley is fond of Two-fer Tuesdays, but no one would suspect that sensual Lisa P. has a couple of questions for God.
And while we often may talk about God and religion, few movies actually tackle the realistic conversations that we have between each other on the subject. For that, Mottola should be applauded.
With his role as James, some might say Eisenberg is doing his damnedest to be a poor man’s Michael Cera, but he was the original Michael Cera with his role in 2005’s “The Squid and the Whale.”
As he walks lethargically through the ironic, hellish nightmare that amusement park employment holds, Eisenberg’s only light at the end of the tunnel is Em, the arcade girl that harbors just as much sadness as he does.
Kristen Stewart, who starred in last winter’s “Twilight,” adds some nice touches to the role of Em, yet often feels like the rich girl with issues.
Although Saturday Night Live superstars Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader shine as the mom and pop brains behind the theme park operation, the real star of “Adventureland” is its soundtrack.
From The Replacements as they play over the opening credits to every time that Falco plays “Rock Me Amadeus,” the music of “Adventureland” seems like a dream playlist for Generation-Xers.
The one person that comes out of “Adventureland” the cleanest is Lou Reed. While he isn’t seen in the flesh, Reed nonetheless comes off as lothario, genius, muse and rock ‘n’ roll god all rolled into one.