Adventureland Thrills Moviegoers

Photo courtesy of Miramax Films
Photo courtesy of Miramax Films.

By Broadside Staff Writer Ross Bonaime

Everyone has had an experience like Adventureland. A place that, in the moment, is your own personal hell, but once you look back on that time, it brings back some of your fondest memories.

In writer and director Greg Mottola’s follow-up to Superbad, Mottola encapsulates that feeling in a manner in which George Lucas did with American Graffiti or Richard Linklater did with Dazed and Confused: it is not so much about what you have to suffer through, but the experience you gain from it.

After coming home from graduating college, James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg of The Squid and the Whale) is raring to go with his friend on the trip of a lifetime through Europe.

Instead of receiving monetary assistance for his trip, he is given the news that his father has been laid off his job and that instead of traipsing through a different continent, he will have to get a summer job.

With his options for a job limited, he begrudgingly takes a job at the local amusement park Adventureland.

He is left to work in the “Games*Games*Games,” booth as specified by his work uniform, where the quiet and the unenthusiastic work. His job seems monotonous and as co-worker Joel (Freaks and Geeks’ Martin Starr) tells him, “we are doing the work of pathetic, lazy morons.”

But his ruined summer makes an unexpected turn when he meets co-worker Em (Twilight’s Kristen Stewart). The potential summer romance causes him to start enjoying himself rather than mourn the summer he could have had.

Mottola gets the feeling of a 1987 summer down with a kitschy, yet appealing, feel to the park. He makes Brennan awkward yet lovable.

Imagine a 20-something Woody Allen. His characters are not the clichés that are expected. Stewart’s Em is a smart, sophisticated character that makes it blatantly obvious why Brennan would be drawn to her.

Starr’s Joel is on the borderline between indie cool and nerd and always seems like he is stuck in the wrong place.

Ride repairman Mike (Ryan Reynolds), is a predictable character, yet even when you are supposed to hate him, there is something distinctly likable there.
Mottola’s script is simplistic yet always realistic. There are the embarrassing interactions; the nervous tension and the unusual conversations that make the dialogue feel consistently authentic.

Mottola’s directing makes you feel the summer. The overcast summer days and the cool summer nights make the audience feel like just one of the many patrons ready to win a big ass panda.

With Adventureland, there is a great sense of nostalgia and love for the time period.

The time period is never meant to feel gimmicky or be a jokey version of the ‘80s, instead a heartfelt admiration is shown for the time of Mottola’s adolescence.
Adventureland takes a surprisingly mature look at this period of transition for Brennan from an adolescent to a man.

It is not wall-to-wall jokes like Superbad, even though there are some great moments from park owners Paulette and Bobby, played by Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, respectively.

But its hilariousness comes from the quiet moments and the moments that feel real. It is Adventureland's dedication to showing a realistic but enjoyable version of the ‘80s that makes it a beautiful ride.

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