Adventureland is being promoted as another Judd Apatow-style comedy (that doesn't seem all that funny), but critics say it's actually a nuanced, character-focused coming of age story with a great '80s soundtrack.
Set in Pennsylvania in 1987, James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) is a recent college graduate who plans to go on a European vacation before starting grad school at Columbia, but is forced to move home and get a job at the local amusement park when his family's financial situation suddenly changes. Adventureland's owners, played by Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, assign him to be a "games guy," the lowest position at the park. He embarks on his own summer adventure when he falls in love with a mysterious girl named Em (Kristen Stewart), who is having an affair with the older maintenance man (Ryan Reynolds).
The film was written and directed by Greg Mattola, who directed Superbad. The critics loved Adventureland and said the film's advertising doesn't represent it well, as it is a heartfelt story about falling in love rather than the typical gross-out comedy filled with vomit and pot humor (though there is some of that). Below, we check out whether the critics think Adventureland is worth the price of admission.
Undeniably, Adventureland traffics in certain, perhaps inevitable clichés that have attended teen and twentysomething relationship movies since time (or at least John Hughes) immemorial. But, as he previously demonstrated in 2007's Superbad, Mottola cuts so swiftly to the underlying truth of those clichés-to the euphoria and pain of youthful rites of passage-that he leaves most other movies on the subject looking especially plastic and shallow
In its own gentle way, Adventureland restores a welcome note of humanism to a genre that has lately become little more than a repository for fart-and-vomit jokes ... Thanks to an exceptionally deft touch, Mottola manages to capture the absurdity and anguish of young adulthood, while never sacrificing meaning on the altar of crude humor (someone throws up in "Adventureland," but it isn't played for laughs). With a soundtrack dominated by Lou Reed, the Replacements and one-hit-wonder Falco's "Rock Me, Amadeus," Mottola's tender look back not only plays to viewers tuned in to its particular frequency, but will ring wistfully true to anyone who has fallen in love, left home or still wonders what it would be like to do either.
Your response to Adventureland may well have a lot to do with your feelings about any of the following: a fine and mellow musical score by Yo La Tengo; the choice of "Bastards of Young" by The Replacements as the title sequence tune; and Eisenberg's exquisitely self-effacing comic timing, similar to Michael Cera's but drier.
If The Wonder Years had followed Kevin and his friends into their early 20s, the end product might have occupied similar terrain as Adventureland. If John Hughes had made movies about characters five years older than his usual crowd, those pictures might have been flavored like Adventureland. Commercials for the film are playing up the "funny bone" aspect, but the laughs are secondary to the heart. This isn't Judd Apatow territory.
Em and James, he with his weakness for always being a beat behind life and she with her complicated emotional situation, are not obvious soul mates. But Adventureland's greatest strength is that it makes you see and believe in the yearning romantic potential these two see in each other. Stewart, who has a gift for investing completely in her characters, brings so much intensity to her part that she turns this nominally guy-centric venture on its head by making Em's problems the film's most compelling.
Eisenberg is a skilled comic actor, slightly mannered, but truthful in the ways that matter. Stewart is even better, suggesting levels of anger and self-disgust, betrayal and life disappointment beneath a surface of dignified composure. With both young actors, we don't just see the characters but also the mature adults they might become.
Adventureland is a bittersweet, if uneven, coming-of-age comedy that captures the notion of a pivotal summer. Unlike other teen misadventures, it doesn't force laughs or push the taste envelope in outrageously new directions. But it's also not as bold or funny as director Greg Mottola's last effort, Superbad. Adventureland, a more personal and layered comedy, is content to settle for subtler laughs, knowing smiles and a few cringes.