Adventureland is a young sex comedy that isn’t dumbAdventureland is a young sex comedy that isn’t dumb
Adventureland is distinguished in part by what it is not. While it’s an R-rated comedy about young love and summer hijinks, it steers mostly clear of the demographic pandering that more often than not seems to plague Hollywood’s forays into those areas.
Writer-director Greg Mottola already has two other surprisingly astute comedies to his credit (Daytrippers and Superbad). And here again he’s produced another one—a lively piece of entertainment with an intriguing and smartly observed array of amusingly offbeat characters.
The setting is the summer of 1987, and most of the action takes place in and around the shabby Pittsburgh-area amusement part that also supplies the film’s title. The central characters are mostly recent college grads, rolling and tumbling through their not-so-dignified summer jobs at Adventureland. Several tentative romances and a steady flow of semi-farcical misadventures emerge in the course of things.
The central but by no means dominant figure in all this is James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), a charmingly geeky literature major hoping he can earn enough money to pay for graduate school at Columbia in the fall. He’s also got the dilemma of his much-postponed loss of virginity, which may or may not be related to his recent rejection by his girlfriend at college.
His emerging relationship with a fellow Adventureland employee, the glum but feisty Emily Lewin (Kristen Stewart), leads to further developments on all fronts, and brings on some significant plot complications as well. Emily, a kindred spirit also headed for grad school in NYC, has some issues of her own, not the least of which arises from her semi-secret love affair with Adventureland’s swaggering handyman, the slightly older (and unhappily married) Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds).
Reynolds, Eisenberg and Stewart, especially the latter, all do excellent work with the deftly written roles Mottola has provided them. And those virtues carry over into at least a half-dozen performances in supporting roles—Martin Starr as a tragicomic misfit named Joel, Matt Bush as James’ chronically immature nemesis Tommy Friggo, Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as the half-daft couple who manage Adventureland, Margarita Levieva and Paige Howard as two unexpectedly distinctive figures in the story’s subplots.
The mostly young audience on hand at Tinseltown on Friday night didn’t seem to know exactly what to make of Adventureland. Only the broadest jokes drew big laughs, but I’m guessing that the relative silences were mostly a reflection of the film’s quietly incisive approach to its characters’ stories. Younger audiences in particular may expect to be stroked and flattered by movies with this sort of story, but Adventureland turns out to be smarter than that and more genuinely appealing as well.