Home > Movie Reviews, Movies, My Movie Reviews > “Adventureland” Is One Big Nostalgic, Bittersweet & Irresistible Morsel

“Adventureland” Is One Big Nostalgic, Bittersweet & Irresistible Morsel


There are plenty of nostalgic, period movies that tell a coming of age story. There are some good ones and plenty of awful attempts at this. “Adventureland” doesn’t switch up the plot of any of those movies, but yet it avoids the cliched pitfalls of movies of its kind. This is due in part to the pitch-perfect casting of almost every single role in the movie and, well, the music.

“Adventureland” was written and directed by Greg Mottola, who also directed “Superbad”. The commercials are trying to sell this movie as a fun-filled romp, but it really couldn’t be further from that. This is a pretty introspective look at a time period in every college graduates life. That being, what exactly do you do once you graduate? Move home? Look for work? Grad school?

Jesse Eisenberg is James Brennan, a recent graduate from Oberlin College that is planning on going to Columbia for graduate school. He is informed by his parents that due to his father’s recent job demotion (no doubt due to his constant hitting of the sauce), that they can’t afford to send him to grad school. Since James is very determined, he moves back to his parent’s house in Pittsburgh, PA, gets a job at the local amusement park, Adventureland, and begins to save his money to move to New York City in the fall.

Sounds pretty basic right? It is. The reason that “Adventureland” completely works is the execution of a pretty basic story that has been told many times. You know the formula…boy is lost, boy meets girl, girl rejects boy, boy gets upset, boy becomes a man, man gets the girl…there are literally thousands of movies just like it.

Eisenberg is fine as James. It’s a role he’s played three times now, as he is pretty much the same nervous, jumpy, uber-intelligent kid from “The Squid & The Whale” and “Rodger Dodger”. Fortunately for Mottola, Eisenberg is really good at this and since he is virtually in every scene, he carries the movie just fine…with the help of several characters that float in and out of the movie.

There are many stand-out performances in this movie, but for me, none stand out more than Kristen Stewart. She plays Em Lewin, another Adventureland employee, who helps James out on his first day as a Games employee. In a way, this movie belongs to Stewart, as her character is dealing with much more than James. She has an awful step-mother, a wet blanket of a dad, and to top it off, she is having an affair with the married maintenance guy at the park, Connell (Ryan Reynolds). There are more than a few heavy moments in the movie and she is involved in just about all of them.

So far, it doesn’t sound like much of a comedy does it? Don’t worry, there are plenty of laughs here and they are due to the greatness of the supporting cast. Martin Starr has a potential break-out role as Joel, another Games employee that, like James, is far too intelligent to be working at the park but is too lazy to do anything about it. His dead-pan delivery guarantees that much of his dialogue will be repeated in pop culture circles for some time.

Why doesn’t someone get a movie together for Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig? They play the Mr. and Mrs. team of “Adventureland” management and these SNL cast mates play off each other beautifully. Hader’s bushy mustache does most of the acting for him and Wiig mumbles her way through another hilarious performance. There can’t be a funnier female actor working today.

Mottola really strikes a great balance between slapsticky humor and dialogue-driven laughs. Eisenberg and Starr get to deliver the majority of the wise-ass comments, usually aimed at people that they see as inferior…which is just about everyone. Their dislike of nearly everyone around would be a bit much if they weren’t as equally disgusted with themselves. Of course, there are plenty of sight gags and immature moments, most of which come from Frigo (Matt Bush), James’ childhood friend that hasn’t quite grown up. Frigo crotch-punches his way through the movie and don’t be surprised when you see “I’m Frigo. Kapeesh?” t-shirt’s pop up all over the place.

There is really only one thing that seems a bit out of place. While I think Ryan Reynolds was good in this movie, he seems a bit miscast. I’ll give him credit for taking a role that didn’t hinge on his charm or good looks as most of his parts have, but it’s tough to buy him as the local loser. He is just too good looking and intelligent-sounding to believe as the guy who has settled with bedding most of the “Adventureland’ female employees. He basically has the Wooderson role from “Dazed & Confused”, but he lacks the sliminess that Matthew McConaughey exuded. I ended up liking his character, when in the end, you really shouldn’t.

The Holy Grail

The Holy Grail

As a college graduate that spent almost one year in a daze after graduation, this movie makes some sense to me. There is a time period that everyone has after they graduate, the one in which you have to adjust in order to prepare for actual real life. For me, “Adventureland” is about that time of your life. For some people, it lasts several years. For others, it only takes one summer of working at the Games area in your local amusement park.

Lastly, the music of “Adventureland” is quite good. Not only are indie rockers Yo La Tengo responsible for the original score, there are plenty of great 80s tunes throughout. It has a few hit songs (Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over” & Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus”) and some 80s rock snob stuff (The Replacements, Husker Du, Lou Reed)…which made the movie even better.

Cinematically Correct note: This was filmed at Kennywood Park in West Mifflin, PA. I grew up about 30 to 45 minutes away from there and it was very cool to see a place that I had been to so many times on screen.

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