Movie Review: Adventureland

Set in Pittsburgh in 1987, Adventureland is centered around the life of James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), a recent college grad who finds himself working at a local amusement park for the summer to save money for grad school at Columbia rather than vacationing in Europe with his well-off college friends. He falls for Em (Kristen Stewart), a fellow Games booth-worker and NYU student (Columbia, NYU…you see where this is going). She’s complicated, as they always are, and the plot doesn’t actually have much to it, I realize, now that I’m sitting down to write about it. The movie slowly (yet comfortingly) follows James as he works a shit job despite having a brand new degree, tries to lose his virginity, falls for a girl he doesn’t actually know anything about, and bonds with other kids working the aforementioned shit job but with fewer post-summer prospects.

I guess that’s the best part about the movie. Not a lot happens, but you relate to it. The humor was exactly the kind I appreciate—the jokes were in the reality and the horribleness of each situation. The characters made you laugh just like a best friend makes you laugh, in a very natural and personal way. The movie did a unique job of making even side characters well developed and relatable, even the obvious foils. Kristen Wiig (Gilly!) and Bill Hader (whom I saw once! so what? who cares?) were brilliant as an awkward husband-wife management team. Martin Starr (Bill from Freaks and Geeks) played Joel, another nerdy Games-worker with whom James gets close. (I obviously just imagined Joel was Bill, since 1987 is actually a perfect timeline for Freaks and Geeks follow-up.) The movie worked really hard to help you understand James, Joel, and Em with little backstory, and even managed to delve into the psyche of Ryan Reynolds’s character. He played a married maintenance guy/local-band musician who fools around with Em and plays weird mind games with James—the kind of guy who dates the college girls at the park to make himself feel younger.

The jokes were clever but simple, the soundtrack was great, and the acting made the movie feel real. The best part of the movie, which reveals why the title is simply Adventureland, is that it captures that exact feeling of going home after college, of working a crappy job because that’s all you can do. It explores that camaraderie you feel when you work every day with a group of people doing a job you all think you’re too good for—when you’re part of a diverse group of young people with a common plight. For example, one running joke of the movie was a commonly-played song at the park that started to drive James nuts. James is forced to work with a childhood friend who grows up to be a tool, running around punching James in the crotch for fun. It’s those types of things that we all have experience with (minus the crotch-punching…? I speak only for myself). Granted, I did see the movie while I was visiting home, but I left with that feeling of loneliness/uncanniness that comes when you reach that point of post-adolescence and pre-adulthood, living at home and figuring stuff out. I love when movies can capture an entire mood, and I love this one simply for that reason. The fact that it was so funny was a good bonus.

(I’m about to be positive.) I was surprised at how much the movie attempted to explore the character of Em. (I’m about to be negative.) I mean, it failed. But I’m still glad that it tried! Her character is the typical female love interest of the nerd hero—the inevitable brooding, troubled brunette. She makes one sarcastic joke between brooding stares so the audience says, “Ahh, she’s funny. That’s why he likes her.” It’s better than nothing, though: she could’ve been a stuck-up, bland stereotype like Heigl in Knocked Up. Stewart was pretty good at bringing a lot of emotion to a character who didn’t have a lot of key lines. The movie used the typical shorthand for female depth: Em has a dead mom, a mean step-mom, and an emotionally unavailable dad. (And she was sexually abused and had Leukemia as a child. Just kidding! Or am I? You’ll just have to see.) Because she can only be sympathetic to the audience (after sleeping with Ryan Reynolds and being cold to James) if we see that the GIRL HAS PROBLEMS, OK? The movie did spend a lot of time on her situation, enough that I kind of wondered why she couldn’t just be the main character. James is the awkward, geeky teen and that works, but it would be awesome to see a coming-of-age movie about a sarcastic, nerdy girl once in a while. And I think, with tweaking, Stewart could’ve been that girl. BUT THAT’S ANOTHER MOVIE (one that will never be made…or where she’ll end up pregnant).

Oh. So anyway, see this. Some people might find the pacing slow, but I enjoyed every second of it. It was one of the more realistic and enjoyable movies that I’ve seen in a while. Do I…give stars? Do I have a rating system? Is that something I should do? Um, I rate this 87 out of 100.