James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg, "Noah and the Whale") graduates from college and tries to eke out a couple of hundred additional dollars from his parents; they have already promised to pay for a graduation trip to Europe, before he goes to grad school, and he and his friend want to extend the trip a little, so he needs more money. But his parents (Wendy Malick, Jack Gilpin) have some bad news; Dad is being transferred and will make less money. They can't afford to send James to Europe and grad school is doubtful as well. James tries to find a job, any job, but can only get hired at Adventureland, a run down theme park run by Bobby (Bill Hader) and Paulette (Kristen Wiig, both of TV's "Saturday Night Live"). James is thrust into a job running Games, despite his desire to join the more interesting and cooler group of kids running the Rides. On his first day, he meets Em (Kristen Stewart, "Twilight") and he seems surprised that she is actually responding to his goofy flirtations and sensibility. And Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds), the head of maintenance, walks through the park with the approving eye of the girls and the awe of the boys.
Jesse Eisenberg is near perfect as James, the nervous kid who is getting closer to being on his own, making his own way through the world. He is still a kid, despite graduating from college, and is disappointed and shocked to learn he won't be able to join his best friend on their planned European tour. He is a smart kid, the type of kid who uses these smarts at inopportune times, inadvertently making others look stupid, which gets him into some trouble. He is also unsure of himself and seems to be shocked every time a girl even gives him the time of day. When he and Em start to hang out together, he is delighted but also more nervous because she really seems to like him.
Eisenberg has primarily played high school kids, so it is nice to see him playing a college graduate, however immature. It works to his favor that I kept thinking he was in high school, because James is not very mature despite his education. When Em invites him to a party, she coyly asks him if he wants to go swimming. She proceeds to strip and jumps in the pool. He is game and strips down to his underwear before jumping in. After a few minutes, she wants to get out and dry off. He has to wait a few minutes, before getting out of the pool. It is a nice, touching, very human moment.
Kristen Stewart is also very good as the unpredictable Em. Already very confused, she meets James and they become friends, flirting consistently. She really likes him and they go out on a date or two. But she has other influences in her life, influences that are hard to kick or hard to correct. Throughout, you can see little glimmers of hope in her eyes. Maybe my life can become less dramatic, less plagued by trouble. But one of these influences is very familiar, and easy, despite the consequences, so she keeps finding her way back to this.
And because these kids are young, and aren't paying rent or mortgages, if anything gets too heavy, they simply face the problem by announcing "I quit" and run off to be by themselves. When the problems follow them home, they realize the solution isn't that simple.
Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig provide some whacked out laughs as the couple who are "in charge" of the theme park. Bobby immediately runs to the rescue of any of his employees, fending off bullies with a baseball bat and a psycho attitude. Paulette stands on the sidelines, admiring Bobby when he is called into action to run one of the games, remembering back to why she fell in love with him in the first place. Despite their relative young age, you get the feeling they have been in this business for a long time and they have the answers to every situation.
Ryan Reynolds plays Mike, an older guy who performs maintenance throughout the park. As he struts through the grounds, everyone seems to regard him in awe. His age and his status as a struggling musician make him cool to both the boys and girls. The guys want to be him; the girls want to be with him.
There are a number of other memorable kids who work at the park and intersect with James and Em.
But "Adventureland" is not a comedy, not really. There are some funny moments, but these are more observational moments. And they are few and far between. It seems misleading to advertise the film as a comedy, but this genre is easier to sell and will probably generate more ticket sales. But as word spreads, how will people deal with the fact that the film is a drama? A good drama? It seems like this practice would alienate people. People looking for a comedy will probably be disappointed. People, who want to see a good drama, won't realize they have a potential film under their nose. It just seems like a lose-lose situation. Why Miramax? Why?
"Adventureland" may seem a bit like a retread, but it is actually fairly unique. Most coming of age stories deal with high schoolers, kids either in high school, soon to graduate or graduating. This film depicts kids who are a little older, college graduates, but they still don't have everything figured out. As we watch them deal with the problems they experience, we identify with them. Most of us didn't have everything figured out when we graduated college (and many still don't) so the story of these kids speaks to us in a way.
Written and directed by Greg Mottola, the film is based on his own experiences in the same situation. I am sure much of what happens to James probably happened to him, in some form. And because so much of the story comes from a personal place, all of the characters seem more real, more interesting. From the nervous energy surrounding James, to the laid back attitude we see in Em, to the cool vibe coming from Mike, we have seen these types of characters before, but Mottola gives each a new level of detail, bringing them more sharply into focus.
"Adventureland" is a good, interesting coming of age film. Check it out.