Rated R for language, drug use and sexual references, 106 minutes
Predictable fun in the romantic dramedy "Adventureland"
"Adventureland" is your ticket to predictable, laid-back fun. Much like a theme-park ride, the low-budget rom com has many ups and downs - it meanders too much and lacks a compelling narrative, but it's superbly acted by the young leads, Jesse Eisenberg ("The Squid and the Whale") and "Twilight's" Kristen Stewart, who have enough memorable moments to almost lift the movie a notch above mediocrity.
It's summer 1987, and lanky, virginal James Brennan (Eisenberg) has just graduated college and returned home to Pittsburgh before entering graduate school. The bad thing is, he learns from his parents (Jack Gilpin and the ever droll Wendie Malick) that his Dad has been demoted and it looks as if James will have to get a summer job. The only thing the intelligent lit major can find is work at a local, semi-run down amusement park run by a peculiar but nice couple, Bobby and Paulette ("SNL's" Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig), who gives James a job running some games. James meets a co-worker named Em (Stewart), a NYU student with a dysfunctional family also doing the summer job thing. The two opposite personalities fall in love but clearly have issues - Bobby in self-confidence and Em in making good decisions.
"Adventureland" is a small independent film directed by "Superbad's" Greg Mottola, and much of the story is semi-autobiographical (Mottola himself worked at the real Adventureland theme park), and it's obvious that Mottola has a fondness for his characters though the story itself is too meandering and loses focus about midway through the story. "Adventureland's" skimming over of some serious issues (subtance abuse, adultery, family dysfunction) lacks compexity or poignancy.
The centerpiece of "Adventureland" comes from its great cast, particularly Stewart and Eisenberg, who make an intriguing pair with some interesting issues. James struggles with his identity and Em with making the right choices, both of which stand in the way of the two consumating their relationship. And oh yeah, Em is secretly having sex with Adventureland's maintenance man, a married musician named Mike (Ryan Reynolds, wasted here).
Without Stewart and Eisenberg, "Adventureland" wouldn't be as near as fun to watch, but there are a few decent supporting players too. The most memorable is Martin Starr ("Superbad") as Joel, a young druggie underachiever type, and newcomer Margarita Levieva as a pretty virginal tease named Lisa P who takes a liking to James. Wiig and Hader are mildly entertaining, but their roles are nonessential, and "Just Shoot Me's" Malick's role is too brief to make a huge impact.
Director and writer Mottola stretches things out too long, and there aren't many big moments to help the audience emotionally connect with these characters - there's not much mystery as to whether our leads will actually sleep together or not in the predictable climax. Having graduated in 1987 myself, the best thing about "Adventureland" was the music - some kitschy '80s tunes I hadn't heard in a long time (the super-annoying "Rock Me Amadeus" among them). Truthfully, I was glad the film was over, but give me some catchy '80s tunes anyday, I just wish the movie were as memorable.
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