Directed by Greg Mottola
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart
I don’t know about you, but I thought Adventureland was about a bunch of underage, high school teenagers spending a wild summer at an amusement park. Sort of like Superbad in Six Flags. Well, I was wrong… but I wasn’t disappointed.
Starring Jesse Eisenberg in a truthful and spirited performance, he plays James, an aspiring travel-journalist who is accepted into Columbia University. Things look up for this bright young man until the beginning of summer. His parents break him the news that they cannot afford their graduation present to him – a vacation trip to Europe with his buddies. They also make it clear that his future at Columbia is in jeopardy because of their financial problems. Oh yeah, and his girlfriend just broke up with him.
So that’s three strikes and Jesse’s trying to salvage his future by getting a summer job and saving up for grad school. For some reason, Jesse’s not qualified for any job. I thought in the 80’s a college degree was worth a lot more than it is now, but I guess now. So he goes to his local Pittsburgh amusement park and instantly gets a job as a game operator. At Adventureland he meets a variety of characters: the park’s owners (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig), he is mentored by slacker-geek Joel (Martin Starr), stares in awe at the mid-30’s Connell (Ryan Reynolds) who is a legend in the park for jamming with Lou Reed, and finally Em (Stewart), a down-to-earth NYU student whom he connects with right from the beginning.
As the plot shapes up, we can see the typical romantic-comedy formula come to surface. James, a virgin and at a low point in his young life, meets Em, who is unlike any girl he’s ever met and to him she seems perfect. But behind the blind eye of perfection are deep wounds inside her home and her ongoing affair with married-maintenance man, Connell. At the same time, James is unlike any guy Em’s ever known. He’s awkwardly sweet, endearingly truthful, and puts others in front of himself. The problem is that she’s a wreck and knows she doesn’t deserve a guy like him, but he doesn’t care. She is his dream girl.
This is Mottola’s follow-up to the widely popular R-rated teen comedy, Superbad. While the laughs are frequent in the buddy comedy between Michael Cera and Jonah Hill, Adventureland has a lot more heart than laughs. This tone gives off the vibe of a John Hughes film from the 1980’s (also how Adventureland was set in 1987). The strength in the film lies within the truth of the characters’ actions and reactions. From James’ quirkiness of breaking up with a girl because of something he read by Shakespeare, to Em’s internal time-bomb and domestic frustration, to the rest of the adolescent cast… everything seems very real, very genuine.
The stand-out performance as I mentioned above was from Jesse Eisenberg. Playing a role that Michael Cera has lived off of – the nice, timid boy trying to break out from his lifelong coma and chase a girl out of his league – Eisenberg not only hits the role spot on, he transcends it.
Opposite of Eisenberg was Kristen Stewart, whom I’m still questioning whether she’s a good actress or if she’s simply perfectly cast for these roles. I wasn’t too fond of her in Twilight, though a lot of that lies on the shoulders of the screenplay and the story that underdeveloped Bella’s character. In Adventureland, Em is full of layers and Stewart subtlety brings out all of them. She’s a hesitant rebel who hides her self-loathing by engaging in sex, drugs, and rock n roll.
The scene that best exemplifies how great Eisenberg and Stewart are in the film is when James confronts Em after following his suspicion that she’s sleeping with Connell. Their heartbreaking fight in the middle of the street is when Eisenberg finally lets out all of his frustration on her, while Em still keeps everything inside. The intensity of the scene is heightened because of how the audience understands that they both need each other. It was a very well-executed scene that was just brutal to watch.
Overall, Adventureland offers a lot more that meets the eye. It’s full of energy, compassion, and most of all sweetness. This might disappoint those who were looking for a vulgar and crude R-rated comedy, but for anyone else this is a delightful film.