While the ads for “Adventureland” promise that it’s “From the director of ‘Superbad’!” it might actually be truer — if less advantageous from a marketing point of view — to say “From the director of ‘The Daytrippers’!” While Greg Mottola is the filmmaker behind all three of these comedies, his new movie is more about understated wit than outrageous antics. (Not that there’s anything wrong with either.)
“Adventureland” stars Jesse Eisenberg as James, a recent college grad who had hoped to spend the summer backpacking through Europe. After his family suffers an economic downturn — the film is set in the ’80s but still feels exceedingly relevant — James is stuck taking the only job he can get, working the games concessions at a run-down local theme park.
Working in games winds up being not entirely awful, since it affords James the opportunity to hang out with the sexy yet enigmatic Em (Kristen Stewart), who will spend most of the summer bewitching him, and the nerdy intellectual Joel (Martin Starr). We get to know other park employees, including Mike (Ryan Reynolds), the handsome maintenance guy who claims to have once jammed with Lou Reed, and vapid alpha-girl Lisa P. (Margerita Levieva).
While “Adventureland” fits squarely into the that-was-the-summer-that-changed-everything genre, it showcases its characters with such grace that you don’t mind the familiarity of the story. James, Em and Joel are smarter than the people who usually occupy this kind of movie — Joel refers to one girl’s rear end as “the Platonic ideal” — and they’re all uniquely (and realistically) bruised. James isn’t sure if his family can afford to send him to grad school as planned, while Em grapples with stepmother problems and a secret go-nowhere affair with Mike.
Joel, meanwhile, comes from an impoverished family and falls for an anti-Semitic Catholic girl, and no matter how much he knows his Russian literature, Tolstoy and Gogol aren’t proving to be much help with life after college.
With his two films currently in release — “Adventureland” and “The Education of Charlie Banks” — Jesse Eisenberg is proving himself to be one of the most dynamic young actors currently on the scene. Even though he occasionally drifts a little close to Michael Cera’s all-stammer-all-the-time territory, Eisenberg’s restlessly precocious characters (he also played one in “The Squid and the Whale”) always feel genuine and vulnerable.
Starr, one of my favorite “Freaks and Geeks” alums, has perfect comic timing, and Stewart gets to demonstrate lots more backbone here than “Twilight” allowed. Director Mottola rounds out the cast with great supporting players like of Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Wendie Malick and Jack Gilpin.
Audiences expecting the bawdy blowout advertised may not know what to make of “Adventureland,” but if you’re ready for a poignantly sweet comedy about encroaching adulthood, you’ll find that it’s one of the best films so far this year.
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