Starring: Jasse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds, Martin Starr, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig. Rated R.
Those expecting another hormonally
charged, cheerfully outlandish sex comedy from Superbad director Greg Mottola may
be surprised to discover that Adventureland, despite a deliberately misleading ad
campaign, is nothing
of the sort. It is a far more grounded, even somber affair, populated by
thoughtful, unaffected characters whose misadventures ring invariably true. It
is also one of the year’s best films.
While its premise might seem ideally
suited to broad, physical comedy – James (Jesse Eisenberg) takes a summer job
at a cash-strapped amusement park whose employees are restless college types
and small-town lifers – Adventureland,
set in the Pittsburgh area circa 1987, is most effective in its quieter
Rather than rehashing the juvenile
absurdities of Superbad, Mottola, who
wrote the screenplay based on his own teenage adventures at a similar park on
Long Island, makes light of the awkwardness of youth in a way that is refreshingly
honest. He cares about his characters, and has a sharp ear for the way they
communicate. Joel (Martin Starr, of Freaks and Geeks), a mild-mannered,
thickly bespectacled misfit whose social ineptitude is played for laughs, is
also the park’s most astute observer, looking on as his friends blunder their
way through a season of tentative romances.
The most poignant of these
involves James and Em (Kristen Stewart), who seem drawn to one another from the
moment they cross paths. Inevitably, complications arise. James is bright but
immature, and too easily seduced when the park’s resident vixen (Margarita
Levieva) proposes a date. Meanwhile, Em’s ongoing fling with Connell, a
married, thirty-something maintenance man (Ryan Reynolds), poses a more significant
Mottola’s delicate coming-of-age
tale unfolds intelligently and without obvious missteps, avoiding facile
resolutions to the drama created by James and Em’s indiscretions. Rather than
presenting Connell as a one-dimensional jerk, for instance, the film sees him
as oddly sympathetic – pathetic in his resistance to adulthood (he consummates
his affairs in his mother’s basement) but otherwise likable.
The movie’s best moments belong to
Eisenberg and Stewart, whose bittersweet courtship feels as effortlessly
authentic as everything else Adventureland has to offer. On some level, they are united by a common misery –
everyone in the film, save for Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig’s quirky park
owners, seems to be running from some kind of demon. But the joy they discover
in each other’s company, when they’re not busy breaking each other’s hearts, is
contagious and a real delight to behold.