It’s the summer of ’87. Dumped, with dreams of a European vacation in tatters, what’s a boy to do? Get a job at the crappy local theme park! And that is exactly what aspiring journalism grad student James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg: Zombieland) finds himself doing when the parental money pot runs dry. In need of college funds and applying for all manner of summer jobs James finds his literature degree of little help and is forced to take a minimum wage position at the titular Adventureland where his testicle punching junior school friend ‘Frigo’ works (a startlingly familiar feeling Matt Bush). Armed with only wit, naive charm, and a bag of pot gifted from his Europe-bound buddy, James sets out to negotiate a drear summer job at the bottom of the Pittsburgh twenty-something barrel. What he finds instead is a drear summer job punctuated with moments of love, lust, solidarity, betrayal, danger, and giant-ass pandas.
James quickly befriends, then falls head over heels for fellow “Games Games Games…” crew member Em (Kristen Stewart: Twilight) only to find their burgeoning romance full of complications. So too with the friendships that rise and fall in the space of an adolescent summer; leaving behind a trail of beautiful, angst strewn wreckage.
Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart anchor a solid cast. Martin Starr is well cast as awkward-duck-out-of-water Joel, the pipe-smoking, philosophy spouting non-religious Jew. Breathing life into a hackneyed college movie stereotype Ryan Reynolds is the right contradictory blend of likeably-cool-meets-disturbingly-predatory-meets-cringingly-pathetic as park maintenance man Connell (reminiscent of Matt Dillon’s ‘big man in high school’ Tommy from Ted Demme’s Beautiful Girls), replete with self-perpetuated legend of having once jammed with the Velvet Underground’s Lou Reed. Even the comic relief are likeable distractions, e.g. Matt Bush as the annoying childhood friend that forgot to grow up. In particular, the excellent comic pairing of Bill Hader (Superbad) and Kristen Wiig (Flight of the Conchords) as theme park managers Bobby and Paulette – Wiig often stealing scenes with impeccable comic timing and delivery of some great little backhanders and throw away lines.
Ultimately this excellently written and well-contained story is carried off by the strong performances of its two leads and the palpable onscreen chemistry between them. Eisenberg’s fast crumbling idealistic naivety is the perfect foil to Stewart’s take on a conflicted soul struggling to rise above self loathing to feel some joy in her life. This confirms that blame for Twilight’s woodenness can be placed firmly on the shoulders of the writers. Stewart’s Adventureland performance is both believable and nuanced – though recent footage from her BAFTA award experience suggests she might be channelling a few personal feelings in this role! Director Mottola’s claim to have based this story on his own past working in an Adventureland theme park is borne out by the ring of authenticity throughout; these are experiences that we and our friends might have had, or at the very least we can relate to the associated feelings and personal melodramas.
Unlike most retro-college movies, in Adventureland Mottola resists the urge to trade on every obvious 80s stereotype and instead opts to tell a story affectionately ensconced in the period rather than making the period the focus of the film. Sure there’s plenty of great fashion and music references – girls in high waisted pants with tucked in shirts vs boys in short shorts; big hair vs mullets; girls gratuitously chewing gum and blowing bubbles; Lou Reed’s Satellite of Love vs Falco’s Rock Me Amadeus – but it is the characters and the reality of relationships that makes this film a wonderful experience. In tone Adventureland reminds less of the tightly stylised college cliques of a She’s All That and more of the unfettered spontaneity of a Dazed and Confused. If The Breakfast Club is the quintessential high school/college film of the 80s, then I would give the 00s to Mottola’s Adventureland. Top work!
DVD Info + Special Features
This is the very epitome of a ‘vanilla’ disc which brings my overall rating down half a point. The feature presentation transfer is visually adequate with a choice of fine Dolby 2.0 stereo or Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks but don’t expect any frills. The movie is of such a high quality that this disc is a must have for any fan of romantic college dramedies but you’ll probably want to upgrade if there is a subsequent special edition.
Single Disc Edition
Region 4 PAL
16:9 Full Frame Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 / Dolby 2.0
Language: English (with English captions for the hearing impaired and audio description for the vision impaired available)
Reviewed by: Jacob Powell
Rating: M – Contains offensive language, sexual references, and drug use.
Duration: 102 mins
Genre: College romantic comedy | drama
Director: Greg Mottola (2009)
Actors: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Martin Starr, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Margarita Levieva, and Ryan Reynolds.