directed by Greg Mottola
starring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Martin Starr, Matt Bush
If nothing else, Adventureland shows you can have a thoughtfully, heartfelt teen sex comedy. Awkward James (Jesse Eisenberg) sees his plans tatter when Dad’s (Jack Gilpin) drinking trashes the family finances. Bumming around Europe and a grad degree at Columbia are out; a crappy carnie job and community college are in. James gets a job at local theme park Adventureland where the entry bar for hiring is pretty low — if you can fit in the tee shirt and look like you might show up, you’re in. It’s not like the place is evil or satanic, it’s just that the pay sucks, the clientele can turn violent, and there always the threat of a customer winning a Big Ass Panda doll and driving the place into bankruptcy. On the plus side, there’s a vague chance James can get laid when he meets troubled Emily (Stewart). Their romance bumbles along, impeded by gossip and bad advice on all fronts. Emily’s in an inappropriate relation with the park maintenance guy Connell (Ryan Reynolds) and James might get a date with the hot and unapproachable Lisa P (Margarita Levieva), but you know those relations can’t work out. Emily was WRITTEN for James.
OK, it’s a Coming of Age Picture, complete with the requisite boner jokes and the tease of Emily in a wet tee shirt. The theme of vomiting haunts the story, and mysteriously symbolic owls appear in most of the interior shots, but this story has two trump cards that suck you in — excellent writing and excellent casting. Eisnberg seems almost unable to act as James, a nice changeup from the usual heroes in this sort of film that exude a winking “You know I AM really cool” aura. Emily is attractive yet you know she has a deep well of Psycho Soon-To-Be Ex-Wife in her, and when the initial lust of any relation burns out, she will NOT be pleasant to be around. The supporting cast is every bit as great – Bobby (Bill Hader) runs Adventureland and looks a bit like Will Ferrell. He’s sort of a jerk, but only as a façade. Deep down he does right by his workers, so long as he doesn’t have to give them money or health care. Geeky Joel (Martin Starr) studies Slavic language and stubble while offering advice he couldn’t follow himself, and James’ best friend Frigo (Matt Bush) keeps their relation alive by kicking James in the balls at every opportunity.
It’s the story and its execution that grabs you with this cast of relative unknowns. As James comes close to his dreams they are snatched away, not in a Greek tragedy pile of bodies manner, but in the way you might taunt a pet with a treat — James can have what he wants, but he’ll have to work five times as hard to get it. This forces him and the audience to reconsider how important that initial desire really is. His motivation to go to Columbia is so he can write like Dickens, but when someone asks him bluntly “Why don’t you just do it?” he respond with some drivel about the Old Boy network. But that begs his initial answer — Does he want to write, or be cool? In the end, we might observe what it takes years to realize. The only way to really be cool is to not give a damn about being cool. Just do your own thing, for yourself, and if you do it well enough, coolness will descend and you never even notice it. And when he finally gets to Emily, they both realize no one is perfect, and they will need to adjust to each other to survive as a couple. Looks like they’ve all grown up, and had a few laughs along the way
Adventureland The Film: www.adventurelandthefilm.com