Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
Miramax's trailers for Adventureland promote the film as being from the director of Superbad, as if to establish a similarity with the juvenile, but surprisingly successful, comedy of Greg Mottola. But make no mistake despite sharing a few cast members, Mottola's simple and sweet coming-of-age tale has little in common with that hit Judd Apatow production.
Whereas Superbad followed the comic misadventures of three virgins trying to score with the opposite sex, the more mature, equally hilarious Adventureland features only one virgin James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) a self-described romantic who reads poetry for fun.
As 1987's Reaganomics take a financial toll on James' family, the college graduate is forced to cancel his European vacation and spend the summer manning a game booth at an amusement park for minimum wage.
Fortunately for James, his job pays off in other ways, primarily the chance to be close to Em (Kristen Stewart), the mysterious, Hsker D-loving arcade girl next door, who may or may not also be involved with married maintenance man Mike (a restrained Ryan Reynolds). Also vying for our dorky hero's affections is the luscious Lisa P (Margarita Levieva), a femme fatale whose ber-appeal temporarily distracts James from his genuine connection with Em.
Although James is a late bloomer, he still has more on his mind than the usual One Thing. He's looking to fall in love; specifically, the kind of true love that he believes will lift him up and transform him.
Casting is crucial in a movie like this, and Eisenberg either works for you as a romantic lead or he doesn't. While his awkward screen presence and nave sincerity are sure to draw inevitable comparisons to Michael Cera, the wholly convincing Eisenberg actually has more range and goes to darker and more dramatic places with the same impressive comic timing. Eisenberg shoulders much of the dramatic load.
But still, the real reason the film works is that we fall in love with Em through James' earnest eyes. The film's mismatched leads sell the summer lovin', and Stewart soars as a guilt-ridden girl struggling to decide what, or rather who, she wants.
The strong supporting ensemble also features Martin Starr (Knocked Up), Stiffler-esque scene-stealer Matt Bush and Saturday Night Live stars Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, who play the park's eccentric owners.
Adventureland is based on Mottola's own experiences working at an amusement park, so it's no surprise that the writing is smart and personal, never talking down to its characters or stooping to rely on outlandish comic relief the way Mottola's last film did.
Even the setting is somehow inherently romantic, with its vibrant colors and kitschy soundtrack including goofy hits such as Falco's "Rock Me Amadeus," which is used throughout the film with surprising comic effect. In fact, the soundtrack (also featuring Lou Reed and INXS) deserves its own billing, seeing as the '80s music is absolutely vital to the film, along with Yo La Tengo's original score.
In the end, Adventureland makes you smile and remember the crappy jobs you worked when you were young, and how at each one, there was usually a magical person who helped you get through it. Because it doesn't matter if the Rollercoaster of Love ends in heartbreak, so long as the ride is worth it. Right?