Screenwriters: Greg Mottola
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds, Martin Starr, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig
Running time: 107 mins
Greg Mottola's semi-autobiographical comedy Adventureland finds college graduate James (Eisenberg) forced to take a job at a crumbling amusement park as his plans for a summer trek across Europe implode. Stationed on games, he ponders his future, falls for arcade girl Em (Stewart) and faces danger at knife-point when he refuses to hand over the unwinnable giant-ass panda fluffy toy. Mottola's previous film Superbad was a raucous teen comedy aimed at the groin. Adventureland is an altogether more sensitive, measured offering, examining young people experiencing emotional rollercoasters as turbulent as the ones found in the eponymous theme park.
With his third feature film, Mottola has deftly steered through coming-of-age clichés and corny sentiment to create a moving comedy drama. There is something slightly off-kilter about theme parks at the best of times, and Adventureland makes the most of that quirkiness by populating itself with a cast of weird and wonderful characters. There's Joel (Starr), a pipe smoker and quoter of Russian literature; managers Bobby (Hader) and Paulette (Wiig), both sticklers for park rules; maintenance man and alleged one-time rock star Mike (Reynolds); Margerita Levieva's popular totty Lisa P; and the crotch-punching Tommy (Matt Bush).
Eisenberg has been on Hollywood's radar since an impressive turn as a reluctant Lothario in 2002's Rodger Dodger. His youthful appearance has kept him from progressing into different kinds of roles, but he's found a niche playing offbeat, smart young men. In Adventureland, he does Michael Cera better than Michael Cera - the awkward gait, the aloof charm, the ability to diffuse tricky situations with a quip is all on display here. Eisenberg juggles James's many neuroses and frustrations with a sharp intelligence and self-assuredness. Playing off him is Twilight's Stewart, another young star who possesses a spark behind the eyes that suggests she's always emotionally present when captured on film.
Adventureland's biggest revelation, though, is Ryan Reynolds as a thirtysomething repair man who regales the theme park's employees of his exploits with Lou Reed. Normally super-charged and energetic, Reynolds gives an astute performance of contained despair. He's a big fish in a small pond, stuck where he is because he married young. His affair with Em, and slightly creepy relationship with his younger co-workers, is an attempt to recapture a lost youth. Mike isn't a genuinely bad person, just misguided and resigned to a life of bitter disappointment. This gives James's battle with him for Em's affections even more dramatic weight.
Some may scoff at Adventureland for sailing too close to a tried and tested story formula, but it's funny, heart-warming and more meandering and whimsical than you'd expect from a mainstream Hollywood comedy. Events resolve themselves predictably - but Mottola, Eisenberg and Stewart earn that happy ending by barely putting a foot wrong through the preceding 107 minutes. Instead of dispatching its hero on a rowdy European jaunt to become a man, Adventureland presents the more realistic notion that growing up can sometimes happen when you least expect it.
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