Jesse Eisenberg (The Squid & the Whale) plays James who has just graduated from college. He’s an intellectual type. He’s had relationships but never any real physical contact with the opposite sex. He’s sort of a nerd, but a cool nerd. He had plans to spend the summer traveling through Europe, but his parents can’t afford to help him with financial needs. Therefore before starting grad school in the fall, he must accept a summer job: a game booth operator at Adventureland. Adventureland is operated by the film’s main comic relief Bobby and Paulette (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig) who like the cops in “Superbad” sort of seem like they’re in a different movie, but are still funny nonetheless. James hesitantly accepts the job where he meets a cute girl named Em (Kristen Stewart) and an even nerdier kid Joel who can’t seem to shake the anti-Semitism he sees in his crush Sue (Paige Howard, daughter of Ron).
As the days progress James gets close with Em, but she’s having an affair with the park’s handy man Ryan Reynolds who is, dun dun dun, married. Why someone like Reynolds would go after a girl who looks like a 13 year old boy going through puberty is beyond me. Therefore when James wants to ask Em out, she backs away which makes James want to go out with the park’s hot body Lisa P. who has returned an employee much to the happiness of every male worker at Adventureland. She’s that slutty looking chick who, like most slutty 80s characters, wears tight, off the shoulder t-shirts and lots of makeup and neon colors. Oh and she dances while she’s operating the rides. Rumor is she’s a virgin too actually.
One of the main perks of Adventureland is it’s setting. Yeah I mentioned the park is a sketchy amusement park, but it is the summer of 1987 and many of your favorite 80s bands make an appearance on the film’s soundtrack. Director Greg Motolla (who also wrote the screenplay which is apparently based on his own experiences) actually does a great job of creating period detail. He doesn’t just throw 80s pop culture references down you throat just for the sake of it (like in The Wedding Singer). And he creates relatable characters in realistic situations. It sort of fun watching all these co-workers bond since they share similar hobbies (drinking, smoking pot etc) and they all share a horrible job run by a pair of hilarious loons.
The film doesn’t try to be overly sentimental or corny but actually hits all the right notes. You feel the frustration in James because he knows the last job he should be working is at a place like Adventureland and he’s really in love with Em. By the end of the movie you’re certainly rooting for him to get what he wants and it’s enjoyable watching his summer journey. Those expecting a complete laugh riot will probably be disappointed, which in a way, I sort of was, but looking back it’s pretty amazing how just plain enjoyable watching “Adventureland” is. It may not be high class cinema but it deals with real life issues, realistic people and is a fun nostalgic look back to a time when we think we should be conquering the world and just end up with broken dreams and wage slave salaries. GRADE: B