Adventureland is a dramatic, slightly funny coming-of-age film totally mismarketed as a Superbad-style comedy. While I consider the movie generally worth seeing for its nostalgic feeling and a handful of fascinating characters, I left somewhat disappointed after laughing hardly at all.
If you're anything like me, you likely have a no-frills, slightly dirty family-owned boardwalk or amusement park near where you live that seemed almost magical throughout your childhood and teenage years. You probably remember the midway lights, giant stuffed animal prizes, the giant corn dogs, and the poorly dressed, badly behaved patrons. Adventureland is about that exact type of place, presented as viewed through the eyes of disillusioned young adults resentfully employed in rides and games.
Jesse Eisenberg stars as James Brennan, a twenty-something college grad killing time before moving on to graduate school. After his plans for a trip to Europe fall through, he is forced to take the only available job of games operator at Adventureland. There he works with an diverse crew of fellow employees including his infantile neighbor Frigo, geeky genius Joel (Martin Star), and brooding, emotionally damaged Em (Kristen Stewart). Throw in a token hot Catholic girl (Margarita Levieva) and a couple of eccentric park owners (Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader) and you've got a perfect setup for assorted summer antics.
I thought Adventureland was average while Mr_chelledun hated it with a passion. There are valid reasons to hold both positions or even to love this film.
First, here's the bad news. Adventureland is definitely slower than I expected in various respects. This is not a laugh-a-minute comedy, although there are a few chuckles. The plot is not action-filled and there is oddly little sense of the passage of time despite the fact that an entire summer passes. This could be because the employees of Adventureland are an intelligent yet ridiculously unmotivated crew who seem awfully immature for being post-college age. The film's pacing is odd and its abrupt, unsatisfying ending comes about five minutes too late. Perhaps worst of all, Adventureland co-stars the insufferable Kristen Stewart who seems determined to make a career out of hair flipping and acting like sulky misfit who inexplicably manages to become the object of every male's obsession.
Now here's the good news. Adventureland features some truly talented actors portraying interesting characters. I've never thought much of romantic comedy go-to guy Ryan Reynolds until seeing him in this film as the adulterous Mike O'Connell. Reynolds's performance is believable and surprisingly nuanced and I would have enjoyed seeing more of this particular character's motivation. Jesse Eisenburg also does a good job as the film's Michael Cera-esque protagonist. Although James has his own set of issues and makes a wide array of self-destructive choices, his character comes across as surprisingly grounded and likable perhaps simply in contrast to the angst-filled individuals surrounding him. Wiig and Hader also do a nice job of adding some much-needed laughs with their own unique carnie chemistry.
While Adventureland lacks much of a forward trajectory, it does create a very strong sense of place at the lackluster 1980's amusement park. Everything from the dingy signage to the ugly stuffed animal "prizes" help to make Adventureland a spot-on replica of a low-budget amusement park. For me, this actually created a strong sense of nostalgia and gave the film a richness of setting that most movies lack.
Overall . . .
Adventureland left me wanting a bag of cotton candy and a corn dog, so on some level it must have been a success. I would classify this as an "interesting" film, if not a particularly enjoyable one. In a nutshell, if you are expecting the next Superbad you will be sorely disappointed. If, on the other hand, you have an affinity for old-fashioned amusement parks or moody coming of age films, Adventureland is probably worth a watch.
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