As an evocation of America in the 1980s, Adventureland is an emotive recreation of that time; as a film, it feels like a piece of wish fulfilment from writer/director Greg Mottola. This imbalance means that, despite it being a very good film, I can’t completely warm to its many charms.
James (Jesse Eisenberg) has just graduated with a degree in comparative literature and looking forward to a trip around Europe. However, this dream falls through and he has to find a summer job. The only option is to work at Adventureland, a local amusement park in his home town, getting a position in the games area. Among the oddball collection of people who work there, he also meets Emily (Kristen Stewart), a pretty young girl who saves him from getting stabbed while working at the park. What follows is a coming of age tale for the geeky and socially awkward James, but with a bit more resonance than that summary would suggest.
The feel for the ’80s is perfect – I was getting flashbacks to my time as a teenager then, even though I was in the UK, and it asks the important question: why was Rock Me Amadeus by Falco so prevalent back then? There are some really nice performances by the supporting cast, including Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, and Ryan Reynolds puts in a nice turn as the park’s repair technician and a part-time musician who claims to have jammed with Lou Reed – the character comes across as charming but is actually quite shallow and unpleasant, but Reynolds sells it.
The two leads are very good: Eisenberg does nerdy and uncomfortable very well, and Stewart plays the innocent-looking but world-weary beauty with charm and ease. The main problem I have is the one mentioned in the first paragraph: because Stewart is so pretty and Eisenberg is so gormless and not attractive and channelling Woody Allen at times, I can’t believe their interaction can work at all, especially as she is the chaser (just look at the way she is looking at Eisenberg in the poster); it makes the film feel like a fantasy of how Mottola wants to remember the time he worked at an amusement park, rather than just a story about that time. I’m not saying that semi-autobiographical tales have to be factual, but this disparity between the two lead characters was just too much for me to digest. Apart from that, I did enjoy the dialogue and the characters and the genuine warmth with which Mottola infused the film.