The director of Adventureland, Greg Mottola, is no stranger to the Summer comedy. His last film, the funny (and sometimes vulgar) Superbad, was a big hit with audiences and followed two high school buddies through one crazy night at the end of their senior year. Adventureland follows a recent college grad through one crazy Summer, so it's no surprise that the director's movies would be compared to each other.
However, now that I've seen the movie I take issue with the recent ads that go something like, "If you loved Superbad you'll really love this one!" I actually think this movie has more in common with the likes of American Graffiti in terms of capturing the cultural milieu of a generation, and maybe even Juno for the warm way it approaches post-adolescent angst.
Maybe my comparisons won't sell millions of tickets but I loved this movie, and I think that in addition to laughing a lot you'll likely leave the theater in a happy haze of nostalgia. To see why, read more.
Jesse Eisenberg plays James Brennan, a recent college graduate whose plans to travel abroad over the Summer before heading to grad school in New York fall through. Forced to move home to the 'burbs of Pittsburgh, James takes a job at a craptastic theme park where he befriends other young employees, like the cynical, Russian-lit enthusiast Joel (played wonderfully by Martin Starr) and a college student home for the Summer named Em (Kristen Stewart).
I enjoyed Eisenberg in The Squid and the Whale so it's interesting to see him in an even more grown-up role like this one. He and Michael Cera have a similar gawky cuteness to them, but where Cera's characters tend to mumble and clam up in the face of a socially nerve-racking situation, Eisenberg's James is quite verbal (he wants to be a writer) and is often guilty of the over-share. He's got eyes for Em and fills in Stewart's cool silences with a lot of cringe-worthy — but endearing — chatter about what he's trying to do with his life. It's charming to see him stumble his way through a romantic relationship with Em, and when it comes to his future he vacillates between over-confidence and sheer terror at the unknown. His journey is not only entertaining but totally relatable.
While it's not perfect, there's so much good stuff going on in this movie it's hard to fit it all into one little post. Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are predictably hilarious as the amusement park's managers (Hader is rocking an awesome mustache, too), as are a lot of the douchey park-goers. I like that Em isn't just the pretty, cool girl at the park, but comes with her own set of complicated family issues and relationships that give her depth and make her love story with James all the more compelling. Their chemistry together is another positive that can't be denied.
This coming-of-age story set in the '80s will probably make many folks feel nostalgic for their youths, but I think more than anything, the movie nails what it is to be on the brink of adulthood, working a dead-end job. I've worked my fair share of weird jobs in high school and in college (and post-college if I'm being honest), and the great thing about Adventureland is that it makes me remember the positive side of that time of life, before I had things even remotely figured out. It makes me recall how free and innocent it was, despite all the anxiety.
Photos courtesy of Miramax