(Miramax) Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Martin Starr, Paige Howard, Margarita Levieva, Wendie Malick. Directed by Greg Mottola
All of us at one time or another have a summer job that at the time we worked it sucked rocks. When we look back on that time in our lives, however, we are almost surprised when we realize our memories of it are fond indeed.
For James (Eisenberg), it’s the summer of 1987. He is getting ready to go to Columbia University, and plans on going to Europe over the summer. Unfortunately for James, his dad is downsized so the money earmarked for his trip has to go to other things. In fact, James is going to have to get himself a summer job.
Qualified to do absolutely nothing, not even fast food, James is beginning to get desperate until he lands a job working the games at Adventureland, the local amusement park. At first, it’s like a living hell; the park is falling apart, the games are rigged and the people there are rude and cruel.
Gradually, James begins to make connections; with Joel (Starr), the bespectacled literary geek who affects a pipe and may be even more picked on than James is; with Connell (Reynolds), the married but cool maintenance man who once played onstage with Lou Reed, at least according to Connell; and most importantly, with Em (Stewart), a fellow games employee who may be even more screwed up than James himself.
Em and James begin an awkward romance, the kind that is so fragile that the smallest stress could blow it away like a dandelion. In that kind of relationship, you tread carefully, each step carefully considered like you’re walking through a minefield which in essence, you are.
Mottola, who previously directed Superbad, steered clear of the raunch of his last movie and instead goes for a sweet-natured dramedy that has at its core a coming of age story but is less that than…well, I’m not sure I can describe it accurately, but suffice to say that the growth that takes place here isn’t the movie’s objective.
The studio, hoping to capitalize on Mottola’s Superbad, marketed it in a way that suggested that Adventureland was similar in tone, and it clearly is not. That may have cost the movie some box office receipts, unfortunately. That’s a shame because this is basically a pretty good film.
Eisenberg, who has been characterized (not unjustly) as a poor man’s Michael Cera, is less annoying than Cera here (which carried over to his next role in Zombieland). However, it is Kristen Stewart who is in my opinion the real reason to see this. While some might hate on her because of her Twilight connection, she is actually a pretty accomplished actress and shows it here with her portrayal of a girl who makes horrible decisions, is desperately miserable and yet remains unbelievably cool.
There are some pretty nice backing performances as well; Hader and Wiig, for example, as the managers of the park who are despised by their employees, and Levieva as the staff slut. It’s all set to a pretty nifty 80s soundtrack that owes more to the Replacements and their ilk than to the more standard Depeche Mode/Wang Chung school of new wave that most period films tend to employ.
Sadly, the movie falls through the cracks between raunchy sex comedy, bittersweet period piece and coming of age drama, with elements of all three. It’s definitely a movie worth checking out, but be warned in advanced that while there are some funny moments, it’s not a comedy per se. It’s the kind of film that can’t really be easily categorized except as high quality.
WHY RENT THIS: A bittersweet paean to summer jobs, uncertain futures and desperate romance.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not raunchy enough to compete with modern comedies and too raunchy to appeal to family audiences.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some drug use, some sexuality and bad language. In other words, I’d probably think twice before letting the kids see this one.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie is based on Mottola’s real-life experiences at the Adventureland park in Long Island; the movie was shot at Kennywood outside of Pittsburgh, however since the real Adventureland has changed so much over the years.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are some fake promos for the fictional Adventureland amusement park as well as an employee training video and drug policy overview.
FINAL RATING: 7/10
TOMORROW: Miracle at St. Anna