Sunday, April 12, 2009

More 'Adventureland' Reviews added (Part 1)

| PART 2 |



Here are the FIRST reviews of 'Adventureland'! Very gooood reviews with so many good things on the movie and Kristen!!

Please keep in mind that reviews can contain spoilers, lots of spoilers, and that negative reviews can be interesting to read. :)

REVIEWS

•• IMDb (early test screening in Boston) Stewart and Eisenberg are both excellent. They and the writing make the movie. An above-average, sincere and personal coming-of-age story.

Stewart's performance impressed me a great deal, and was probably the best in the film. She manages to balance the neuroses and pain of her character with the comedy that comes from that pain very well. She covers a lot of ground seamlessly.

(About Kristen & Ryan Reynolds's characters) I saw it tonight, and wasn't particularly skeeved out by their relationship. Considering how much drugs and alcohol her character consumed, making out with an older dude seemed kind of minor.

Yeah it didn't seem super gross that he was going out with her...and her performance was fantastic...really good for this type of movie...I thought it was going to be straight comedy...but it had a lot of drama...and she was brilliant.


•• SlashFilm, Ghostlife: One of the movies I’ve been looking forward to is Superbad director Greg Mottola‘s Adventureland coming of age film based on his own experiences at the Long Island amusement park. Set in 1987, the film follows James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), an uptight recent college grad forced to take a minimum wage job at an amusement park when he realizes he can’t afford his dream tour of Europe. Writer/director Greg Mottola – best known as the director of the hit comedy Superbad – channeled his own experiences as a low-paid amusement park employee while making the film.

Ghostlife saw an early test screening in Boston, and had this to say about the film: “I thought it was excellent.” …”The acting and screenplay were great, but also thought the direction was fabulous. There was a slight ethereal quality to it that added a lot of atmosphere. The 80s aspect was also not overdone as I feared, it complimented everything just right. As it started I didnt know where it was going to go, it felt like it might be a directionless screwball comedy, but it turned out to be what I thought was a beautiful movie. Great character, acting, a tinge of weirdness. Unique stuff, well done!”


•• Moviefone, Erik Davis: Adventureland is and isn't everything I expected it to be. First off, no matter what the trailer may show you, this is in no way Superbad, circa 1987 -- so get that out of your head now. Adventureland is, instead, a sometimes subtle dramedy that's more touchy-feely than it is funny. With more in common with writer-director Greg Mottola's The Daytrippers, Adventureland is a moody late-eighties time capsule whose parts explode on the screen and shoot out in several different directions before landing, together, in a pile of mixed emotions.

James (Jesse Eisenberg) is an inexperienced brainiac who's looking forward to spending his summer before college traveling through Europe. With the trip planned right down to the last penny, James is informed by his stiff parents that the nine hundred bucks he was supposed to receive as a graduation present won't be arriving in his pockets anytime soon since dad was forced to take a major pay cut at work. So, instead of discovering himself abroad, James is forced to find a summer job to help pay for his expensive Ivy League school in the fall. When his skinny frame and intellectual persona find him rejected from almost every job out there, James reluctantly takes an opening at the Adventureland theme park in the games division.

Once on the grounds of Adventureland, the film really takes off -- reminding us not only of the summer-fling films of our youth, but also introducing a wicked ensemble cast who put the funk back in funktastic. It isn't long before James takes a liking to Emily (Kristen Stewart), the pretty brunette working games alongside him. Emily is cute and edgy and of course there's more to her than it seems. The relationship she has with her rich parents is not good, and her relationships with the opposite sex aren't any better. And as James grows closer to Emily -- hoping she'll happily become his first love -- he slowly learns the girl has a whole host of demons camped out in the closet.

In between moments of love, lust and fireworks, other employees at the park -- like Martin Starr's hilarious, scene-stealing Joel -- really step up and sell the flick's good, nostalgic vibes. Bill Hader and Kristin Wiig turn in great-yet-relaxed performances as the park's eccentric owners, while newcomer Margarita Levieva is absolutely awesome as the totally 80's hottie Lisa P., whose loud outfits and bubble gum popping turn heads everywhere. In addition to the characters already mentioned, we also have an extremely subdued performance from Ryan Reynolds as the park's mechanical worker, who plays mentor to the younger James as he hides a heartbreaking truth from his new buddy and the rest of the Adventureland workers.

Kudos have to go out to Miramax for taking a chance on Mottola's vision here, because in any other hands -- at any other studio -- this may have turned into a film full of over-the-top performances and silly sight gags. But Mottola tones down his actors, getting great stuff from Eisenberg (whose well-spoken comic timing should land him more leading roles) Starr, Hader and Wiig, but Reynolds unfortunately adds nothing to his character to make him unique or different -- spitting out his lines as if he were reading them while half asleep on the toilet (there's just nothing there but a blank stare). And while Adventureland comes with a great 80's soundtrack, fun outfits and a few huge hairstyles, it definitely could've injected more 1987 into other parts of the film, too. I guess I wanted to be there, instead of remembering when I was there, if that makes sense.

But if you give the film a chance, and remember that it's not supposed to be "the next Superbad," there are some really great parts to Adventureland that ultimately add up to a pretty decent flick. While watching the film -- like visiting the park yourself -- you probably won't take home that big ass panda bear stuffed animal, but you're still guaranteed to have a good time.


•• Salon, Andrew O'Hehir: In contrast, the other major ’80s film of this festival, Greg Mottola’s amusement-park romantic comedy “Adventureland,” is a total delight, with a winsome and terrifically textured cast who seem both like young-adult archetypes and recognizable human beings.

“Adventureland” will be released in theaters soon (by Miramax), so it isn’t the moment for a full-length review. Let’s just say that “Superbad” director Mottola captures the atmosphere of mid-’80s post-teenage boredom with wonderful charm and specificity. James (Jesse Eisenberg of “The Squid and the Whale”) is still a virgin, but he’s a bit more than your standard horny teen. In fact he’s a Renaissance studies graduate planning to move to New York for grad school, until his parents’ finances collapse and he’s forced to stay at home in Pittsburgh. As he puts it, “Unless someone wants help restoring a fresco, I’m fucked.”

So it is that James winds up at Adventureland, a mildly seedy theme park presided over by mustachioed Bobby (Bill Hader) and his dimwit wife, Paulette (Kirsten Wiig). James’ co-workers include the pipe-smoking, Gogol-reading Joel (Martin Starr); local music legend Connell (Ryan Reynolds), a slightly older guy who allegedly once jammed with Lou Reed; the self-appointed hottest girl at the park, known only as Lisa P (Margarita Levieva); and of course the tomboyish, sharp-tongued Em (Kirsten Stewart), who makes James believe it might not be such a deadly summer after all.

Of course “Adventureland” will have to appeal to a broader audience than people who actually worked at dead-end service-sector jobs in the mid-’80s. It’s much more intelligent, and vastly less insulting, than your average horny-kid comedy, and I think it will do just fine. But let’s say this: If you were in fact there in that era, at Adventureland or someplace like it, then Mottola absolutely nails it. The hair, the clothes, the rides in old beaters fueled by bong hits and Replacements songs. The atmosphere of total ennui that in fact fostered the outburst of DIY creativity. The Foreigner cover bands and endless-loop radio play of “Borderline” and “Rock Me Amadeus.” Part of me wanted to get off Mottola’s time machine and work at the game arcade with James and Joel and Em for a few weeks. And then I thought about what that would actually be like, and I realized that visiting for 90 minutes is a whole lot better.


•• Ain't It Cool, Headgeek: Hey Guys, Greg Mottola kind of came out of nowhere and kicked my butt with "Superbad." Say what you will about the script but Mottola added a few inspired touches of his own that elevated lewd fraternity into something a little more. Then, I noticed his name under the director's credit on a few episodes of Arrested Development and I was even more impressed. With "Adventureland" Mottola is directing his own script (that he'd been working on since before "Superbad") and the result is something unexpected and special. The film does touch some bases of the teen comedy formula. James, the main character is the sensitive virginal type who is unsure of himself around the opposite sex and "reads poetry for fun." Thankfully though, this movie isn't about him hatching some hairbrained scheme to finally lose the "scarlet v." Instead, it's about how he has to get a summer job at Adventureland, a junky theme park, so he can save up enough money to pay his rent when he moves to New York for grad school. His primary concern isn't about getting laid, it's more surviving the summer with his dignity intact while his intellectual college friends spend the summer in Europe. There at Adventureland James meets Em, the edgy mysterious girl that is a prerequisite in most adolescent coming of age films. Em is a bright girl from a well-off family but wears worn band shirts and works at Adventureland to annoy her dad and step-mom. James quickly becomes infatuated with her. She is drawn to him as well, but won't let herself get too close The characterization of Em is something that sets "Adventureland" apart from films like "Superbad" and "Sex Drive." Em isn't an object of lust, and she isn't a Manic Pixie Dream Girl that teaches James how to live and love life. There is a sadness to her, and as more is revealed about her family and relationships the more complex she becomes as a character.

Ryan Reynolds is perfectly cast as a sort-of likeable prick who brags about jamming with Lou Reed but can't further his music career because he is trapped in a loveless marriage. Martin Starr is great as the nerdy guy who is maybe a litlle too smart for his own good. Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig play the owners of the park. They are the most conspicuous of the cast, and their performances constantly border on cartoonish exagerration - especially in comparison with the more natural performances of Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Wiig. Luckily, Hader, Wiig and Mottola are all deft and talented anough to balance the ridiculousness with the pathos. They keep it believable by keeping the humor based in the script and the situations the characters are in instead of rolling the camera and letting Hader say whatever wacky improvisations come into his head. In one scene Martin Starr compares another characer's genetalia to the platonic ideal. I think that's what's going on with the two main characters. They both see the other as something perfect and then never feel worthy of the others love. They both need to make mistakes in order to learn how to love someone for who they really are, not for how you wish they are. Just so you don't think this is a serious touchy-feely movie I'm happy to report to you that there are not one but two erections at inopportune times, plenty of vomiting, multiple punches to the balls, a bald lady getting her wig ripped off, one corndog to the face, and Bill Hader in a ridiculous mustache. Something for everyone. Thanks!


•• Collider, Kenny Fischer: Mottola is three for three. I loved THE DAYTRIPPERS. It was a wonderful and intelligent character comedy. I, along with the rest of planet earth, loved SUPERBAD as well. I think he has a great grasp of character and tone. There's something charmingly small about his movies. They never get large in scope. They aren't high concept. They're "hang out movies."

He disappeared for a decade after THE DAYTRIPPERS, directing some great television in the mean time, and now he's back and could amost be called prolific (if you consider that PAUL is ramping up at this very moment). If the progression from SUPERBAD to ADVENTURELAND is any indication of where he's headed and how he's going to evolve as a filmmaker, then we're in for a lot of awesome.

ADVENTURELAND is a comedy that isn't always trying to make you laugh. The success of individual scenes or sequences isn't based on whether or not they end with a huge laugh. Everything hinges on the characters. As I said, this is a "hang out movie." Like DAZED AND CONFUSED. Like JACKIE BROWN. Like SUPERBAD. And where Mottola's previous movies took place over the span of one night, this film follows an entire summer.

Jesse Eisenberg plays a college grad who planned on going to Europe for the summer. When he finds out his parents are broke, he has to get a summer job at an amusement park...called ADVENTURELAND. From there it becomes an ensemble comedy about your first summer job and your first true love. Everything about the movie works amazingly. The soundtrack. The characters. The comedy. The romance. Everything.

The best thing about the movie is how every character is a shade of gray. Kristen Stewart's character is flawed, fleshed out, likable, and tortured. Ryan Reynolds isn't a bad guy, he's just pathetic and sad. The movie never takes any cliche turns. It lets everything grow organically from the characters and tone. There would have been some easy choices, even choices that would create more conflict, but everything about this movie just felt right to me.

This is a warm, beautiful, and funny comedy. I wish there were more like it. Oh, and Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are geniuses.


•• The Daily Californian: Stewart, 17, is able to carry off well the role of an older student midway through her undergrad at NYU, with familial grievances that have left her with a wry sense of humour, and the emotional maturity of a 15-year-old.

Their chemistry was believable but paled in comparison to that between Reynolds and Stewart, which helped make Em’s fascination with Connell, a married sleaze ball, more understandable to me.



•• Ain't It Cool, Massawyrm: I’m just gonna lay my cards out on the table. Greg Mottola is this generation’s John Hughes. SUPERBAD was his SIXTEEN CANDLES - a goofy coming of age high school comedy detailing a wild, over the top adventure happening in a single night with Michael Cera and Jonah Hill serving as his Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall and McLovin as his Long Duck Dong. Much like Hughes, Mottola has quickly graduated from the gag based comedy and moved into the riskier but more rewarding waters of young adult drama and sexual politics. This is Mottola’s PRETTY IN PINK. A much deeper, less humor driven, touching coming of age story, ADVENTURELAND follows a common storyline in very uncommon ways. It is 1987 and James, a college graduate who is somehow still a virgin, must take a job for the summer to help him cover his grad school expenses for the next year. And in classic Hollywood fashion, he takes a job that changes his life forever. A true to form first love tale, Mottola is unafraid to play with very detailed characters in very uncomfortable situations. Nothing is clean and easy in this as James falls for a girl who is secretly dating someone she shouldn’t while the much pined for park hottie begins to develop a thing for James. Far from cardboard cutouts, each character is painstakingly detailed and likable in their own way – even when they are the film’s foil. Sure, it’s funny. But it isn’t THAT kind of comedy. There’s nothing madcap or zany or even over the top. Every bit of humor here is character driven, the kind of funny that you laugh at because it is true. The geeks aren’t mercilessly picked on as much as they’re pretty much ignored. The girl our hero is in love with is far from a perfect, untouched flower – she’s more of a broken girl with her own heartbreaking story. And the film’s heel, if you can really call him that, isn’t some one-dimensional, letterman jacket wearing asshole. Sure, he’s a dick. But you get him. You kind of feel for him. And you see why everyone else likes him.

And what drives the film home even more is that our hero isn’t the nerdiest of the nerds – on the contrary he is well met by something of a “geek chorus” in his buddy who is even more ignored, socially awkward and financially screwed than he is. And there is this constant, very subtle resentment from him towards our hero who, despite his nerdy foibles, actually has a shot with a hot girl, a possible future and people genuinely like him. It’s a weird kind of “Ducky” role that balances out the main character and brings him more into the everyman category, making him readily identifiable to the majority of the audience. The dialog here is down to earth with characters that are never smarter than they should be. And what 80’s gags there are here are subtle, never trying to hit you over the head with Rubik’s cube jokes or people wearing outfits that were only really found in rock videos. Mottola sets a tone here, one of a more realistic portrayal of the times drawn from his own experiences. It’s not a laugh a minute nor will is it a 100 minute episode of I LOVE THE 80’S. It is a coming of age drama, one that cuts to the bone and guts you once it runs its course. That’s not to say that you won’t leave with a smile on your face – but this isn’t some magical happy story where everything gets tied up all nice and neat. It’s like life. Some things work out. Others don’t. Everyone is great here. Jesse Eisenberg really sells his hapless geek. Ryan Reynolds turns on his patented douche charm without tempering it with his usual you’re-gonna-love-me-anyways mystique, allowing him to be kind of unlikable to the audience while appearing to the characters in the film as the guy WE always see him as. Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are hilarious together as the park management team.

And Kristen Stewart, dear lord. Let’s just say Mottola presents her just so as to propel her into the status of sex symbol. Sure, she was already well on her way, but this is the role that’s going to keep guys her age up nights. She’s got this energy about her that is so raw, so broken, so unchecked that people are going to lose their minds. She personifies that tempestuous first love and took me back to my own first love with a girl like her. If you haven’t fallen in love with her yet, this is the film that will convince you. There hasn’t been a writer/director like this since Hughes; someone who so perfectly connected with their youth to tell an honest, true to life story about love and its many complications. This is a first love story. And as most folks will tell you, first love is rarely a walk in the park. First love is fumbling in the dark for a condom, it is trying to figure out how to tell a girl you love her without scaring the shit out of her, it is about missing very direct and obvious signs that you should be kissing her rather than running your mouth. And that’s the kind of love you will find in ADVENTURELAND. It is about the mistakes. It is about the inexperience. And it is about the lessons you walk away with. It is, quite simply, the most honest, teen oriented story about love that I’ve seen in quite a long time. Mottola is crafting classics – teen classics that a generation will grow up with and revisit in the way my generation pines for THE BREAKFAST CLUB, SIXTEEN CANDLES and FERRIS BUELLERS’S DAY OFF. I love his films. They are a breath of fresh air in a genre rife with imitation. As much as there are some great teen comedies that we consider reminiscent of Hughes, no one has really captured the spirit of these films more than once. Until now. Sweet, adorable and at times heartbreaking, ADVENTURELAND is one of this year’s rare treats. Something you should seek out at your earliest opportunity. Until next time friends, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em.


•• Cole Smiley: Rating B-
Nostalgia for a time that never was drives writer/director Greg Mottola's ("Superbad") unassuming '80s era coming-of-age romantic comedy. Jesse Eisenberg plays James Brennan, a virginal college graduate who foregoes a summer vacation to Europe because of his parents' financial woes, to work at Pittsburgh's Adventureland amusement park. The only good thing about James' game booth job is the presence of his alluring co-worker Em (Kristen Stewart) with whom James makes his first tentative steps toward developing a romantic relationship. James doesn't know about Em's sexually active bond with the park's roving electrician Ryan Reynolds, that serves as a narrative time bomb. Eisenberg and Stewart make movie magic happen, but the miscasting of Ryan Reynolds as an adulterous playboy puts a severe damper on the film. Like the confused social period of the Reagan era that the story inhabits, "Adventureland" is an awkward comedy that makes you wish it were a lot better.


•• News Blaze, Prairie Miller: Rating 3/4
A Superbad followup by filmmaker Greg Motola that might be termed Superbored, Adventureland is anything but, as depressed post-grad burb youth do the dream deferred thing on the way to uncertain adulthood. Based on the memories of Long Island homeboy writer/director Motola and his summer drudge duty at that Farmingdale amusement park, Adventureland relocates to Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh. Ouch, a missed opportunity to capture the distinct local flava of an LI lost and found coming of age elegy in the late '80s, and settling instead for strictly generic atmospheric vibes, say it ain't so, Greg.

It's in the depths of that other recession during the Reagan period, and James (Jesse Eisenberg), a nerdy college grad who is looking forward to matriculating in the fall at Columbia School Of Journalism, gets the bad news from his parents that Dad, a closet alcoholic, has just been downsized at work. Which means that James will have to round up a summer job to pay his own tuition.

The only work James can find much to his dismay, is as a carnie at Adventureland, where the games tend to be rigged in a predictable no-win situation. It's also the sort of turf for tacky rides where word has it that you could find a Reebok in the parking lot - with a foot still in it.

But his new friends are cool, both the temps and lifers, and they help keep one another from succumbing to full blown existential despair. James is at the same time hopelessly smitten by fellow carnie and commitment challenged Em (Kristen Stewart), a temperamental teen who's involved in an emotionally self-destructive affair as strictly a side dish, with Mike (Ryan Reynolds), the park's very married flirty handyman.

Adventureland presents fairly standard youthful romance, but with an uncommon sensitivity, grit and all natural hip humor that never feels contrived. Whether it's religious differences that complicate relationships, too much booze just to get by, fractured family life, or terror of an unseen and uncertain future. Or, those nutty comical interludes like sex in a seatbelt, the goofy, budget stressed park owners (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiigand), and that mad crush on the girl who introduced you to those incomparable 'psychotropic chocolate chip cookies.'

But what infuses Adventureland with its lion's share of vivid dramatic intensity, is that promising method actress extraordinaire, Kristen Stewart. Whether aspiring vamp or vampire in whatever role (Adventureland preceded Twilight), she's got all the ingredients to claim bragging rights as the up and coming James Dean of young hotties.


•• Reelviews, James Berardinelli: Rating 3,5/4
More than 30 years ago, the template established by Animal House for college age comedies became a recognized standard. However, although the Animal House approach is a good way to get cheap laughs, it falls apart when anything more substantive is desired. It's increasingly rare for a filmmaker to trust an audience enough to build this sort of comedy around intelligent, believable characters in which the humor evolves organically out of the story and the relationships. Too often, artificial set pieces are shoehorned into an otherwise low-key narrative for the sole purpose of amping up the laugh quotient. Greg Mottola, whose Superbad exhibited some of this behavior (particularly in the scenes with "McLovin'" and the two cops) has taken a leap of faith with Adventureland. The result is a sharp, insightful, charming motion picture.

If The Wonder Years had followed Kevin and his friends into their early 20s, the end product might have occupied similar terrain as Adventureland. If John Hughes had made movies about characters five years older than his usual crowd, those pictures might have been flavored like Adventureland. Commercials for the film are playing up the "funny bone" aspect, but the laughs are secondary to the heart. This isn't Judd Apatow territory. Although the dialogue doesn't shrink from sex and other matters that obsess 22-year old men and women, it's not wall-to-wall crudeness and profanity. Sitting through this movie and recognizing the fragile balance between humor and honesty, I waited with trepidation for the first false note to be struck - the misplayed chord that would shatter the melody. It never happened. Okay, so the bozo who repeatedly punches his best friend in the groin is annoying, but even he isn't overdone. Every other character is treated with respect. Mottola rejects familiar clichés in favor of allowing the individuals populating his picture to live and breathe. And the uncanny insight with which he depicts second-rate amusement parks from the late 1980s speaks of first-hand experience.

It's 1987 and James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), a newly minted college graduate, is looking forward to a summer in Europe before heading east from Pittsburgh to New York City for an Ivy League graduate education. Unfortunately, James' dad (Jack Gilpin) suffers a setback at work and the money is no longer there for either the trip or Columbia. So James must get a job, and the only place where his lack of practical experience isn't a hindrance is a minimum-wage shift at Adventureland Amusement Park, running a game booth. It's a crappy job, but the compensation is that James meets some interesting people: Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds), the rock star maintenance man who plays the field despite his wedding ring; Joel (Martin Starr), whose intellect and awkwardness around women match James'; Lisa P (Margarita Levieva), the star of every male's wet dreams; and Em (Kristen Stewart), whose mixture of compassion, substance, and girl-next-door good looks dooms James to a summer of longing. Despite his geeky appearance and fondness for deep thinking, he's surprisingly popular - although that could have something to do with his stash of joints.

The evolving relationship between James and Em, although far from uncomplicated, is not contorted by the usual romantic comedy missteps and misunderstandings. The movie skirts familiar territory, especially when it's revealed that the subject of Connell's summer fling is Em, but it never stumbles into it. Mottola elects to present Connell not as the biggest asshole alive but as a man whose rampant infidelity is counterbalanced by positive traits. Once he recognizes there's something developing between James and Em, he doesn't actively torpedo their romance to protect his interests. 99% of similar movies would have transformed this character into an A-level jerk but Mottola doesn't take such a facile route. It's the same with the other characters. Because they are patterned after real people rather than Hollywood types, they act and speak in atypical ways - not too clever (like in Juno) and not too dumb.

Jesse Eisenberg embodies a geek who doesn't fit the Hollywood standard-issue model. He's smart, witty, and confident. His uncertainty around women is apparent but not overplayed. He can interact with them without freezing up. Kristen Stewart's Em is the kind of unpretentious girl someone like James would fall for. Stewart is more than merely appealing in this role - she makes Em a fully realized woman, and some of the most intricate development results from what the camera observes in Stewart's eyes. It's easy to forgive the young actress her participation in the Twilight movies if she continues to contribute to projects of this caliber. She has too much talent to waste in hollow adaptations of shallow books. The supporting cast is strong as well, including Reynolds - who may be playing the role he was born to play - and Martin Starr, the first college movie best friend not hell-bent on getting his buddy into trouble. Even comedic actors Bill Hedar and Kristen Wiig are carefully reined in.

For the most part, Adventureland does not wallow in '80s nostalgia, although "Rock Me Amadeus" becomes an anthem of sorts. But it does tweak memories - reminiscences of those horrible summer jobs redeemed only by the easy relationships formed with fellow employees stuck in the same situation. Because many viewers, irrespective of age, will relate to that sort of mundane experience, Mottola doesn't need a more compelling hook. Once he has our attention, he holds it by providing characters with whom we develop an almost instantaneous bond, and he doesn't endanger that reality by polluting it with over-the-top secondary characters or inauthentic narrative contortions. I liked these individuals and I appreciated what Mottola does with them.


•• Hollywood & Fine: ‘Adventureland’ - Finally, a smart comedy

“Adventureland” is a return to form for director Greg Mottola – by which I mean that it calls to mind his 1996 debut film, “The Daytrippers.”

Never mind that the ads trumpet this as a film by the director of “Superbad.” As solidly funny as that film was, Mottola was a director for hire, working in Apatown, the province of Judd Apatow. “Adventureland,” on the other hand, is only masquerading as a youth comedy, despite a cast that includes Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds, Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig.

In reality, “Adventureland” is a personal comedy about post-teen characters. Partially autobiographical, it’s about coming of age – but using the loss of one’s virginity as only a secondary aspect of that process.

“Adventureland” never condescends to these characters. Sure, the more swinish of the park’s customers is played for jokes but, otherwise, James and his crew are likable slackers, snidely undermining the system when they can (but rarely beyond the act of catching a buzz before starting a shift).

Eisenberg has played this kind of role before: smart, insecure, a little nerdy, verbally adroit in a world that mostly doesn’t get his jokes. He finds new ways in each film to play the kid who gets his heart crushed in a painfully funny way and then learn from it.

Kristen Stewart makes an interesting match for Eisenberg, whether she’s puncturing his bubble or raising his hopes unexpectedly. It’s nice to see her play tough; given her fragile appearances, it creates comic friction.

Just a quick mention, also, of Martin Starr as James’ sardonic, bespectacled pal – a Russian-lit major whose major affectation is smoking a pipe. Starr’s throwaway deadpan style is deceptively funny – just as it is when he appears on the new Starz series, “Party Down.”

Sweet but bittersweet, funny without working at being outrageous, “Adventureland” is a finely etched character comedy smart enough to touch any audience. It’s rarely needs to be raucous because it’s always on the mark.


•• Film Journal, Ethan Alter: After Say Anything, Garden State and Superbad, do we really need another movie where a dweeby nebbish improbably wins the heart of a gorgeous babe? Probably not, but when that movie is as charming as Adventureland, it's hard to complain too much. Like Cameron Crowe and Zach Braff before him, writer-director Greg Mottola (who also helmed Superbad) drew on his own youthful experiences in crafting the story of James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), an overeducated college grad whose carefully planned path to success—a summer in Europe followed by graduate school at Columbia University—hits a speed bump when his dad loses his job, knocking the family out of their comfortable upper-class tax bracket.

With Europe an impossibility and grad school seriously in jeopardy, James has to find a summer gig and fast. Unfortunately, the only place willing to hire him is Adventureland, a slightly seedy Long Island theme park, where he toils long hours for minimum wage. (Funnily enough, Adventureland is a real-world Long Island landmark, but the film was actually shot at a park in Pennsylvania.) Assigned to the games area—which, as every theme-park employee knows, is much less cool then working rides—James befriends sarcastic stoner Joel (Martin Starr) and makes goo-goo eyes at brainy, beautiful Em (Kristen Stewart, fresh off her Twilight success), who is secretly carrying on an affair with the park's married handyman/aspiring musician, Mike (Ryan Reynolds). Oh, and did I mention that—like a certain recent comic-book movie—Adventureland is set in 1987 and features lots of period-appropriate music and fashions? Thankfully, this ’80s throwback doesn't feature an absurd soft-core sex scene scored to Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."

Material this familiar requires a strong ensemble of actors to make the proceedings fresh and funny, and Mottola has staffed his film with comic ringers, particularly Starr, who is fondly remembered by "Freaks and Geeks" fans as one of that show's most reliable scene-stealers. He scores most of Adventureland's funniest lines as well and is always on hand to lighten the mood whenever James' constant navel-gazing gets too overbearing. “Saturday Night Live” regulars Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader also keep the laughs flowing as the eccentric couple who own Adventureland. (As funny as these two are, however, their broad performances don't always mesh with the movie's otherwise low-key comic tone.)

Forced by plot machinations to shoulder much of the film's dramatic weight, Eisenberg and Stewart aren't able to have as much fun as the supporting players, but they deliver strong performances anyway. With his shock of brown hair and rapid, overanxious delivery, Eisenberg can't help but bring to mind a young Woody Allen and, in fact, one can easily imagine James growing up to be Isaac Davis or Mickey Sachs. It would have been easy for Stewart to play Em as the typical manic pixie dream girl who teaches the nerdy hero how to loosen up and enjoy life. To the actress' credit, she doesn't idealize the character; at times, Em is a pill to be around and Stewart portrays that side of her honestly.

Much closer in spirit to Mottola's debut feature The Daytrippers than Superbad—which was unmistakably a Judd Apatow production—Adventureland confirms that the writer-director's strengths are working with actors (particularly young actors) and mining comedy from the mundanity of everyday life. But both of his self-penned films suffer from an overwhelming sense that we've seen this same story told many times before. Instead of reminding us of real life, they remind us of other movies. That doesn't mean that Adventureland isn't a pleasant viewing experience, but you might leave the theatre with a nagging sense that you liked this movie better when it was called Say Anything.


•• Today, Alonso Duralde: 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.)

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.


•• Philadelphia Weekly, Sean Burns: This new flick is an average coming-of-age story—with a lot of heart.

A familiar story told with surprising delicacy, Greg Mottola’s autobiographical Adventureland at times feels like a John Hughes movie directed by François Truffaut.

Sure, on the surface it’s your typical “summer that changed my life” comedy about a bookish young virgin learning hard lessons on the way to ditching his cherry—but the laughter is weirdly muted, and there’s a rueful longing that undercuts the farce. At heart, this is the story of a kid discovering that the world is really a much smaller, sadder place than he’d ever imagined.

Jesse Eisenberg (who after Roger Dodger, The Squid and the Whale and now this has carved out a neat little niche for himself as an occasionally insufferable stand-in for the author) stars as James Brennan, a pompous recent college grad who finds all his grand plans scuttled once boozy Dad gets demoted and can’t foot the bills anymore. James has no choice but to go get himself a job, which is trickier than you’d expect for a Renaissance studies major with no work experience.

He works at the titular Pittsburgh theme park, a ramshackle den of enforced gaiety staffed by bleary-eyed drug users and assorted dysfunctional depressives. Boss Bobby (Bill Hader) and his dim wife (Kristin Wiig) preside over the day-to-day drudgery with panicked, phony enthusiasm—their broad SNL performances only gradually revealing depths of disappointment to match the movie’s melancholy tone.

Our pontificating hero gets stranded in the dreaded Games section, joylessly enticing patrons to partake in poorly rigged tests of skill. (The sum total of his training is that he must “never let anybody win a giant fucking panda,” as the park is running low on them.)

Freaks and Geeks fans will thrill to the sight of Martin Starr as James’ burned-out mentor Joel, who’s the kind of guy who smokes a pipe because he thinks it makes him look cool, then awkwardly hands over a Gogol paperback as a morning- after gift to a floozy who mistakenly made out with him when she was drunk. Much like Starr’s immortal F&G character Bill Haverchuck, Joel faces life like it’s one big argument he already knows he’s lost.

The lone bright spot in James’ unconstructive summer is Kristen Stewart’s willowy, half-gone Em, a drunken tart-tongued mess who sets his heart aflame and caused something close to anaphylactic shock for a certain film critic who shall remain nameless. She’s the kind of aching disaster you’d give anything to rescue, as if she sprung fully formed from the lyrics of a Hold Steady song.

Still, James has no idea that Em has been carrying on with Adventureland’s married maintenance man. A fading lothario who prides himself on fake stories about “jamming with Lou Reed” and then bangs his underage conquests on the pull-out couch in his mother’s basement, Ryan Reynolds at last stares down the shallowness of his fake-Chevy Chase persona. Credit Mottola for finally cashing in on this annoying actor’s shiny fundamental bankruptcy, granting him dimensions of almost tragic grandeur as he prattles on for the 15-year-olds about “rocking with Lou on ‘Shed a Light on Love.’”

If you don’t get that particular joke, Adventureland is probably going to feel like a really long haul. The pitch-perfect 1987 milieu is a character in its own right, and any soundtrack on which Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” and Crowded House can hold their own next to the Replacements and the New York Dolls is an album you’re going to want to buy.

Rewatching Mottola’s triumphant Superbad recently, I was struck by the notion that all the Seth Rogen-penned envelope-pushing raunch wasn’t aging particularly well, but the movie still holds up gorgeously as an end-of-a-friendship vignette to rival Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También.

Adventureland is like Superbad with all the awkward moments intact and the farcical romps cut out. It’s gangly, deeply felt and ends at least a scene or two after it probably should. Still, lovely.


•• Creative Loafing Charlotte: Our multiplexes need another period coming-of-age flick about as much as the nation needs another banking industry bailout, yet Adventureland proves to be a nice surprise. For that, thank the efforts of a talented ensemble and a screenplay that mostly steers clear of the usual gross-out gags that have come to define this sub-genre in modern times.

Adventureland was written and directed by Superbad's Greg Mottola, and he frequently has trouble nailing the 1980s milieu in which the film is set: Some scenes are visually so nondescript that it's easy to forget the time frame and assume the movie takes place in the here and now. Other bits hammer the '80s connection home in marvelous fashion -- especially amusing is the fact that Falco's "Rock Me Amadeus" blares from the park sound system on a continuous loop, much to the increasing irritation of James and his friends.

Eisenberg is exemplary as the nerdy intellectual whose sensitivity and demeanor attract rather than repel women -- here's that rare youth flick where it's actually believable that the geek gets the girl -- while Stewart again demonstrates her standing as one of our most promising young actresses by ably tackling the script's most complicated role. The supporting parts are also well-cast, offering familiar character types (flirtatious party girl, vulgar comedian, etc.) yet investing them with enough personality to offset any sense of deja vu.

As for Adventureland itself, it's presented as a second-rate amusement park, certainly not anybody's idea of a choice spot for a first date. The same, however, cannot be said of the movie, an inviting entertainment that's clearly worth the admission price.


•• CinemaBlend, Katey Rich: Rating 3,5/5
Though it's set at a low-rent amusement park, Adventureland is essentially a summer camp movie, a nostalgia-tinged look back at the balmy nights and summer flings you may or may not have had in your youth. Nothing in the movie really justifies its setting in 1987, despite some laughs about Falco's "Rock Me Amadeus" and trendy fashion, but it does help add a retro-cool sheen to what's essentially a very standard coming-of-age dramedy. Coming off Superbad, Mottola is dialing up the sentimentality and realism here, and what he achieves is admirable if a little ho-hum.

He made a swell pick by casting Jesse Eisenberg, kind of a brainier Michael Cera, in the lead role. As James, a college graduate whose big Europe trip is replaced with a stint working games at Adventureland, Eisenberg is awkward and geeky and infinitely relatable, translating the teenage angst he showed in The Squid and the Whale into a more adult kind of ennui.

Adventureland is almost entire James's story, with a brief dip or two into the story of Em (Kristen Stewart), the sulky girl whom James is immediately smitten with when he begins his thankless job at the games booth. Living with a stepmom she loathes while on break from NYU, Em has been having a dead-end affair with Mike (Ryan Reynolds), the kind of king of a small town who lies about having jammed with Lou Reed and ignores his pretty bleached-blonde wife in favor of hanging out with younger kids.

Hanging around the fringes of the story, while James tentatively starts dating Em while being pursued by local sexpot Lisa P (Margarita Levieva), are comedians like Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig and Martin Starr, each of them making their little impact but not establishing much for their characters. Much more interesting to watch are lesser-known actors like Levieva, who precisely evokes both Lisa P's insecurities and awareness of her own sexual power.

For the most part the plotlessness of Adventureland is fine, as the movie skates along on its own general good vibes and insight into that particular summertime feeling of having no idea where your life will go next. But after one too many Lou Reed montages, or maybe the second boner joke, the movie can feel a little threadbare, and not nearly as deep, interesting or original as it hopes to be.

But the movie is funny enough, and an enjoyable ride overall, and most importantly evokes those familiar nostalgic feelings that get you looking over old camp photos one random night. That patina of memory takes away a little from the realism that characterizes a bit of Adventureland; even when the movie delves into sadness or some genuinely raw emotions, it mostly gets swept under the banner of "that one crazy summer." But Mottola gets credit for trying, and once again depicting teenagers with a thought or two in their head, even if sex and drugs are, as always, the main agenda.


•• Roger Ebert: Rating 3/4
It is a truth of twentysomethings that if you have a crappy summer job with other twentysomethings, the way to take your mind off work is daydreaming of sex with your workmates. You are trapped there together eight or 10 hours a day for three months, right, so what else is there to make you dance to unheard melodies?

Take James. Here he is all set to move to New York, and his dad loses his job and he’s forced to take a job at a shabby Pittsburgh amusement park. All of the rides look secondhand, all of the games are rigged, and all of the prizes look like surplus. Your job is to encourage customers even more luckless than you are to throw baseballs at targets that are glued down, while inflamed with hopes of taking home a Big Ass Panda. That’s what Bobby the owner calls them when he instructs you, “Nobody ever wins a Big Ass Panda.”

Director Greg Mottola, who made the rather wonderful “Superbad,” is back now with a sweeter story, more quietly funny, again about a hero who believes he may be a virgin outstaying his shelf life. Jesse Eisenberg, from “The Squid and the Whale,” plays James, who has a degree in Renaissance studies. (The movie is set in the late 1980s and there may still be a few jobs around.) He’s out of his element at Adventureland; Bobby has to coach him to fake enthusiasm when he announces the horse-race game, where you advance your horse by rolling balls into holes. His performance reminded me uncannily of my last visit to Dave & Buster’s.

Most of the male employees in the park lust for Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva), whose Adventureland T-shirt unfortunately advertises Rides*Rides*Rides. James is much more interested in Em (Kristen Stewart), who is quieter and deeper (Games*Games*Games). She’s smart, quirky, seems more grown-up than the others. A quick rapport springs up, despite her edge on James in sexual experience. She thinks he’s kinda sweet. They talk about subjects that require more than one sentence.

This romance takes fragile bloom while Mottola, also the screenwriter, rotates through a plot involving James’ friends, one of whom expresses his devotion by hitting him in the netherlands every time he sees him. We cut often to the owner Bobby and wife Paulette (Kristen Wiig), who are lovebirds and have firm ideas about how every job at the park should be performed, which doesn’t endear them to the employees because they’re usually right. Oh, and then there’s Connell (Ryan Reynolds), the good-looking maintenance man, who is married, and why am I telling you that?

As the summer lurches between deadly boredom and sudden emergencies (someone wins a Big Ass Panda), James and Em grow closer. This is absorbing because they reveal themselves as smarter than anyone else realizes. From his earlier work, I expected to like Eisenberg. What surprised me was how much I admired Kristen Stewart, who in “Twilight,” was playing below her grade level. Here is an actress ready to do important things. Together, and with the others, they make “Adventureland” more real and more touching than it may sound.

I worked two summers at Crystal Lake Pool in Urbana. I was technically a lifeguard and got free Cokes, but I rarely got to sit in the lifeguard chair. As the junior member of the staff, I was assigned to Poop Patrol, which involved plunging deep into the depths with a fly swatter and a bucket. Not a lot of status when you were applauded while carrying the bucket to the men’s room. (“No spilling!” my boss Oscar Adams warned me.) But there was another lifeguard named Toni and — oh, never mind. I don’t think she ever knew.


•• Hitfix, Drew McWeeny: I love Richard Linklater's "Dazed & Confused." Yes, I think it's funny and well-written and well-performed and I love the soundtrack and the sense of time and place... but what makes the film a classic for me is the way it's not about a story at all, but is instead about an experience.

I know I had that night in high school. That first night where I got caught up with friends and with possibilities and when I got totally lost, adrift in the night, not caring at all about curfew or consequence. I think most people have a night like that, or many nights like that, and I think they're an essential part of the transition from childhood to adulthood, a milestone in adolescence. I thought Linklater and his huge ensemble cast perfectly captured that night, that feeling, a time and place. And because of that very special, distinct approach, "Dazed and Confused" almost feels like a real memory, and not just a movie.

Greg Mottola's heartfelt and pitch-perfect new film "Adventureland" hits me the exact same way, and from the moment it got overshadowed at Sundance by the much showier Fox Searchlight rom-com "500 Days Of Summer," I've felt protective of this film, taking any negative comment on it almost personally. If "Dazed" is the movie about that first night of freedom, then "Adventureland" is the movie about that first summer job. And thanks to the talented ensemble cast and Mottola's deft touch with tone, this isn't just some teen comedy aiming at the easy set piece or the gross-out gag. It's a sincere look back at that moment when you first enter the workforce, and suddenly you find yourself with a whole new social group, a whole new set of dynamics to negotiate, access to things you've never had access to.

Even the set-up to the film takes its own way to get to the set-up, avoiding easy genre conventions. Jesse Eisenberg stars as James Brennan, a recent college graduate planning for grad school in New York with a friend in the fall. His planned graduation gift was a trip to Euriope with his friend, but when he arrives home, he learns from his parents that the family has taken a financial hit, and they're not going to be able to afford the trip. Even worse, no grad school. James goes into free fall, and he finds himself scrambling to get a job that can help him save for his move to New York. He's determined he's going to still go, even if his parents won't help. But with no work experience at all, and with an English major under his belt, he's essentially unemployable. The only job he can find is at Adventureland, a fairly low-rent local amusement park run by Bobby (Bill Hader) and Paulette (Kristen Wiig), a sweet, eccentric couple. He ends up making new friends and having some hard experiences over the course of the summer, leading him to make some big choices about his life by the time fall rolls around.

Easy enough, right? Mottola's real gift as a writer is that he manages to set up all the drama he needs to without resorting to making anyone into a ridiculous villain. One of the reasons I loathe most movies that are labeled "romantic comedies" is because I don't find them romantic or funny. They're so often driven by characters making despicable choices, lying to each other for no good reason, acting in ways that needlessly complicate things. It's not human behavior, it's plot mechanics, and it's offensive to me. How many rom-coms have you seen that wouldn't exist if the two lead characters just told each other the truth? And how many of them depend on The Douchebag Boyfriend who ends up threatening someone's life or doing something positively criminal in the pursuit of "love"? Well, Mottola doesn't seem interested in that sort of thing. Here, there are characters who seem like antagonists or easy stereotypes when they first appear, but the longer we spend with them, the more we realize that the surface is just the surface, and that all of these people have more going on than they admit at first.

He becomes good friends with Joel (the great Martin Starr), and the slow reveals that the film offers regarding Joel's home life are doled out with precision and to excellent effect. I was friends with a couple of guys like Joel in high school, and they were enigmas, intentionally so. And the girl that James likes is Em, played by "Twilight" star Kristen Stewart. I don't think she's got to worry about "Twilight" defining her whole career... she's already proven herself capable of making smart choices and doing good work in interesting films. Her brief role in "Into The Wild," for example, or this work, where she plays Em as a bruised girl who can't articulate the rage she feels towards her father and her stepmother, and so she's acting out, pushing people away with this act of hers, and indulging in some seriously self-loathing liasons with Mike (Ryan Reynolds), the park's handyman. Stewart isn't a great actress yet, but there's a quality about her that I find affecting, a sort of contradictory flinty fragility, like she's easily broken but also quick to temper. And she's guarded, making those few moments where she relaxes and lights up something special. It's like seeing the sun between the clouds for just a moment. I think the more comfortable she gets as an actress, the more interesting she'll be, but I'm encouraged by a performance like this one. And the same is true of Reynolds, who makes an awful lot of garbage. He's obviously a guy who can be incredibly effective with the right material, so why doesn't more of it end up in his hands? It seems to me like he's still one of the most underutilized assets in movies right now, and hats off to Mottola for making the most of that weird sort of creepy charisma Reynolds has. Mike's a guy who talks a good game, a guitar player who has a rich history of gigs with guys like Lou Reed. That history may be completely imagined, but that doesn't matter to the little girls who see Mike's backstory as all the incentive they need to bang this married guy who is essentially just a janitor at a fading fun park. They can imagine him as a rock star for a few minutes, and he can hold on to that last little bit of youth. It's a sad arrangement, and Em seems like a girl who would be too smart for Mike's act, but just damaged enough to let herself fall for it anyway.

Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig offer really sweet support to the film, and there's such a suggestion of history in the way they play their scenes together that I found myself almost wishing for a movie just about them and their struggles to keep the park afloat. We understand that they met while working at the park, and buying it together and running it is something that is an essential part of their marriage and their attraction to one another. Hader's acting through a giant soup-catcher, and most actors would get eaten alive by a moustache like that. Not Hader, though. He manages to bring that same gentle eccentricity to the character that he brings to each role he approaches. He likes the little quirks and tics and oddities that define these people he plays, and I appreciate that as a comic approach instead of just broad caricature. The same is true of Wiig, which may be why they play so well off of each other.

And I want to offer special praise to the work of Margarita Levieva, who I first noticed in David Goyer's "The Invisible." It's hard to believe the sad-eyed tomboy in that movie is the virgin bombshell named Lisa P in this film, but it's true. And Levieva is the real deal, an actor of uncommon perception and the ability to vanish into roles. She never looks the same twice, and she never plays two roles alike. She's not interested in being a movie star... she's character, all the way. Lisa P is gorgeous in that '80s big-hair "Flashdance" way, a girl who knows exactly what effect she has on guys, but who's not prepared to do anything about it. And every choice Mottola makes about the character as a writer is amplified by the way Levieva plays her. There's a date between James and Lisa P that is one of my favorite scenes in anything I've seen this year. Sad and sweet and funny and oh-so-goddamn-real.

Mottola's soundtrack is dense and well-chosen, and I think it's safe to say that he now officially owns Judas Priest's "Breakin' The Law." He uses 1987 as a setting without being obnoxious about it, a pet peeve of mine especially in '80s films, where the urge to go camp is almost impossible for production designers to avoid. And for anyone who grew up near Kennywood, the Pittsburgh amusement park, you're pretty much guaranteed a nostalgia rush as strong as an acid trip while you watch this film. My writing partner Scott Swan grew up near Kennywood, and I've heard him tell stories about his childhood at that park for twenty years now. I can't wait for him to see this film, because I guarantee it's going to hit him hard. And I'm willing to bet that anyone who ever worked a job they hated during a summer they cherish is going to feel the same way about "Adventureland." I certainly do.


•• Tony Medley: Rating 10/10
Not for children.

I have a list of unforgettable romances, those that linger for years. It starts in the ‘30s with “It Happened One Night” (1932), in which Clark Gable pursues reluctant runaway heiress Claudette Colbert on a bus trip across the country. Continuing in the ‘40s was “Casablanca” (1942) in which Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman love each other from afar. In the ‘50s it was “An Affair to Remember” (1957) in which Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr romance each other aboard a transatlantic luxury liner. The 60s added “Love With the Proper Stranger” (1963) in which a pregnant Natalie Wood reintroduces herself to her baby’s father, Steve McQueen. Then came “The Graduate,” (1967) in which Dustin Hoffman goes after Katherine Ross to the music of Simon & Garfunkle. The ‘60s closed out with “John and Mary” (1969) with Hoffman approaching Mia Farrow in a bar and they end up sleeping together without getting each other’s names after which the romance begins. The ‘80s icon is “When Harry Met Sally” (1989) with Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan being friends not noticing that they were falling in love.

Only two of these are realistic, “Love With the Proper Stranger,” and “John and Mary.” The others are movie magic, presenting lives of which people may dream, but which clearly nobody has ever lived. That doesn’t make the others unentertaining, but it was the consistency with real life that made these two stand out.

Now comes another to add to my short list, “Adventureland.”

I admit I went into this expecting a puerile teenager movie. While it’s about graduating collegians, what it really is, is a sweet, realistic love story. Everything about this movie is good, from the perceptive script and sensitive, intelligent directing of Greg Mottola, to the acting by the entire cast. While Jesse Eisenberg, the leading man (James Brennan) gives a captivating performance as the virginal, disingenuous protagonist, the person who stole the movie for me was Kristen Stewart (Em Lewin), the girl who captures his heart. She is the one who has to express her hidden emotions through her eyes. While she is a girl interested in a guy, she always shows that there’s something serious bothering her. It is her performance that makes this film something special.

While it’s not an A-list cast, the talent is all A-list. Among the supporting actors who shine are the always capable Wendie Malick and Jack Gilpin as James’ parents, Mr. & Mrs. Brennan. Then there are the park managers, Bobby (Bill Hader) and Paulette (Kristen Wiig), who add to the comedic aspects of what is really a serious story. Ryan Reynolds gives a deft performance as the charming, philandering husband, park mechanic Mike Connell, who heartlessly preys on women 20 years his junior. James and Em are such delightfully nuanced characters that this never sinks into the young adult drivel thrust upon us by most movies about this generation. For my money, Stewart deserves an Oscar® nomination. Whether she gets one or not, this is the best feature film I’ve seen so far this year.


•• SlashFilm, David Chen: Rating 9/10
It’s hard for me to put into words precisely why I love this film. What I know is that Mottola is thoroughly skilled at capturing the perils of suburban ennui and the excitement that comes from the mundane minutiae of dating. The details of amusement park life are also lovingly rendered. I was left with the feeling that the director not only thoroughly knows his source material, but knows how to bring out the idiosyncrasies of both the situations and the people in a way that’s funny and tender.

It doesn’t hurt that the performances are uniformly excellent. Eisenberg’s James is full of wanderlust, but he still manages to capture the perfect mix of meticulous precision, nervous awkwardness, and plain old sweetness that make him worth rooting for. His performance grounds the film, but each of the other quirky characters also get their moments to shine. Ryan Reynolds is characteristically great in the role of Connell, the kind of creepy, kind of pathetic amusement park repairman. I was also a huge fan of Martin Starr as Joel, who subtly captures the seething sexual frustration that’s always lurking under the surface of his character. And of course, there’s Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, who steal the show as the sheltered couple who run Adventureland.

And then there’s the matter of Kristen Stewart. The biggest thing that baffles me about Stewart is the massive gulf between her on-screen charisma, and her off-screen persona. Check out this appearance Stewart did on Letterman to promote Twilight, in which she appears to be part-catatonic, part-nervously excited, and part-completely unaware of what is going on around her.

Watching this clip (after seeing her in the thoroughly mediocre Twilight), it’s hard to see an actress with a promising career ahead of her, but Stewart is absolutely irresistible in Adventureland as the romantic interest that’s full of self-loathing. Em is a mess, a girl who realizes the emotional havoc her actions are wreaking, yet is simultaneously helpless to stop them. At the same time, Stewart exudes a quiet sexiness and an understated vulnerability such that you can’t help but fall in love with her. In other words, you can totally see why James would subject himself to the things that he does in pursuit of Stewart’s Em.

There’s a lot of other stuff to like about Adventureland, such as its fantastic soundtrack and its 1980s feel and look. But above all, Adventureland is a film about the trails and tribulations of young love. It’s a touching coming-of-age tale that has a heart and soul. And it proves that Greg Mottola doesn’t need Mitch Hurwitz, Judd Apatow, or Seth Rogen to make you laugh.


•• AZ Central, Bill Goodykoontz: Rating 4/5
"Adventureland" is not what it seems.

That's not a bad thing.

From the trailers and television commercials, you'd think it's a teen sex comedy. Given that it's written and directed by Greg Mottola, who directed "Superbad," that would be OK - as fans of "Superbad" know, it has an underlying sweetness and intelligence that elevates it above the typical party-hearty fare.

So does "Adventureland." In fact, it probably contains as much drama as comedy, perhaps a little too much. It's not "There Will Be Blood," but the film, about a college graduate (Jesse Eisenberg) working a summer job at an amusement park in 1987, honestly and effectively mines the brand of ennui and heartbreak peculiar to young adults.

Eisenberg plays James Brennan, whose father (Jack Gilpin) gets downsized and no longer can pay for James' graduation trip to Europe. Suddenly needing money for graduate school, too, James takes a job at Adventureland, a drab amusement park run by the offbeat Bobby (Bill Hader) and his even more bizarre wife (the always welcome Kristin Wiig). There James meets, among others, Joel (Martin Starr), a closet intellectual; Lisa P (Margarita Levieva), the park hottie; and Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds), a maintenance man and musician a few crucial years older, who, according to park lore, supposedly once played a set with Lou Reed.

Most important, James meets Em (Kristen Stewart), a sharp college student who works at the park mostly to create distance from her hated new stepmother. Although James doesn't know it, Em's having an affair with Mike, who's married. James, meanwhile, is still a virgin, and it's to Mottola's credit that "Adventureland" is more than just a couple of hours spent trying to change that status.

At its best, the film gets at why kids act the way they do - situations at home, the uncertainty of the future, the simultaneous desire to fit in and to stand out. Mottola also pays attention to getting the details of the period right, achieving this in part through the soundtrack. If there's a better song to play than the Replacements' "Unsatisfied" when it's dark and rainy and you're taking a bus to New York City for a reassessment of your life, I haven't heard it.

The cast is uniformly good - particularly Stewart, who filmed this before "Twilight" was made. There is one moment near the end of the film when James corrects Mike on a crucial, and potentially momentous, musical point. Reynolds plays it perfectly, smiling and moving on with a wry look that says, you know that I know that you know, and I'm fine with that.

What "Adventureland" lacks is the stream of uproarious gags, the laugh-out-loud lines, that "Superbad" had. Fine - it's a different movie. But a few more of those bits, of which Mottola is obviously well capable, wouldn't have detracted from the story he's telling. In fact, they would have helped move it along.

As it stands, "Adventureland" is still a worthy effort, several cuts above the teen comedies that came out of the era it depicts while managing to capture it thoroughly.


•• Boston.com, Wesley Morris: The 2007 film "Superbad" is remembered as many things - funny, sweet, obnoxious, lucrative. One thing it isn't remembered for, despite what the credits say, is being a Greg Mottola movie. Seth Rogen co-wrote it, and Judd Apatow produced it. As such, the film tends to get lumped in with all things Apatow. Like every director in the Apatow fraternity, Mottola was more a traffic cop, making sure the physical and hormonal chaos didn't kill anybody. The sensibility (crude, schlubby, cuddly) was Apatow's.

The film "Adventureland" means to provide a clearer sense of what "A film by Greg Mottola" means. But the forecast is "hazy with a chance of cute." It's the sort of flavorless, willfully quirky, occasionally amusing slice of suburban boredom that, for years, has given the Sundance Film Festival its soft, gooey center.

The film is set in Pennsylvania in 1987 and revolves around James (Jesse Eisenberg), a stammering, inexorably bright recent college graduate bound for Columbia University's writing program. He says he wants to write travel books as Charles Dickens did. A trip to Europe is in the offing. But his parents' sour finances leave him stuck with a job operating the games at an Adventureland amusement park managed by the sort of one-dimensional nonsense couple you'd expect Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, of "Saturday Night Live," to play.

James's awkwardness and ambivalence informs the rest of the movie's tone. Eisenberg has Albert Brooks's sense of intellectual superiority and certain young people's social insecurity. The movie puts both to the most banal ends. James finds himself caught between two of the most nubile girls on the park's payroll. Emily (Kristen Stewart) works in the games department with him. Lisa P (Margarita Levieva) is the little red Corvette of the staff. In case you missed that: Lisa P works in rides.

Stewart and Levieva represent two competing types of sexuality, indirect versus indiscreet. Stewart supplies another movie with the forlorn lust that made sense in "Twilight." The 1980s setting suits Levieva here. What Lisa P knows about carnality she appears to have learned from Whitesnake music videos. Things are complicated by the news that Emily, whom James prefers, has been having an affair with the park's hunky, older married mechanic, played by Ryan Reynolds. James is the last to know.

Mottola looses some interest ing people on the action - a cocky kid named Pete (Dan Bittner) and his socially confused sister Sue (Paige Howard), who looks older than everybody and stops hooking up with James's new friend Joel (Martin Starr) because he's Jewish; an over-caffeinated weirdo played by Matt Bush, who's so funny in those AT&T family-plan ads. Why didn't Mottola build the movie around them?

Some characters can't even see what's in front of their eyes. Lisa P's introduction comes with a marvelous speech from Joel about the aesthetics of her backside. But it's her inexplicably silent black friend Kelly (Kimisha Renee Davis) whose apple bottom fits Joel's description to a tee. How could someone with such a fatal attraction to beautiful butts not notice hers? The movie is colorblind, but body-dumb.

I much prefer last year's "Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist" to what's going on here. That film had its imperfections, but it plunged into the here and now of being young and alive and drunk and horny and confused. You could feel the crackle of energy that's missing from "Adventureland," which tries making emotional noise. Yet so much of it is so deadpan and self-consciously arch; it lazily coasts the surface of nostalgia.

In an interview from 2007, Mottola described "Adventureland," which he planned to make after "Superbad," as "indie comedy." That description epitomizes what's wrong with both his movie and most so-called indie comedies, from "Napoleon Dynamite" to "Juno," movies that neutralize life with comedy as opposed to looking for the comedy in life. Race is made safe. Sex is made safe. Feelings are neat and simple. There are no appreciable politics. The soundtracks are always excellent, and everybody is uncomfortably cool. Their hearts, minds, and souls are coated with Teflon.

These are movies that aspire more to mediocre television than to films or moviemaking. As a sensibility, "indie" shouldn't be confused with the riskier, thornier ambitions of American independent cinema, which more than ever is being elbowed to outer regions of the distribution and exhibition process by vanishing studios, yes, but also by trendy niche marketing. "Adventureland" is harmless enough, but "indie comedy" sounds like something better seen at Urban Outfitters than at a movie theater.


•• Philly, Steven Rea: Greg Mottola segued from The Daytrippers, his quiet, sharply observed comedy about family and fidelity, to Superbad, 2007's Judd Apatow-chaperoned take on adolescence, friendship, sex, and that gawky McLovin with the fake ID.

Adventureland, Mottola's third feature, mixes the intimate, indie vibe of Daytrippers with the absurdist screwball streak of Superbad, to winning effect. Semiautobiographical and set in Pittsburgh in 1987, the coming-of-age comedy tracks the director's alter ego, James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg, the older brother from The Squid and the Whale), over the course of a summer between college and grad school. When his plans for a European trip are scuttled (his parents are broke), James has to look for a job - and finds one, working for minimum wage at a rundown amusement park.

Bad corn dogs, puking patrons, a weirdo boss (Bill Hader), and five-minute bathroom breaks - it's going to be a long, hot summer. But then James meets Em (Kristen Stewart), a bored, bright coworker. Inexplicably to James, who went through four years at Oberlin and is still a virgin, Em seems interested in him. But there are complications - mainly, she's having an affair with Mike, the park's maintenance guy (Ryan Reynolds). A musician who fronts a cover band in local bars, Mike also happens to be married.

Adventureland boasts a cool sound track of Reagan-era pop (Big Star, Lou Reed, the New York Dolls, the Cure, Crowded House) and a low-key stoner sensibility - James is a bit of a pothead. There are the usual mortified male mishaps (awkward dates, painful humiliation) and an obnoxious childhood friend who expresses himself by punching James in the groin, but Adventureland offers more than that: a glimpse into blossoming adulthood, and a love story in which honesty and trust might get a chance to triumph over hurt and deception.

Eisenberg's James, impossibly earnest, is awkward and ingratiating, and it's fun to watch him become emboldened as he falls for Em. Stewart shot Adventureland before she made that little vampire romance thing (um, what's it called, Twilight?). Her character here is older and more cynical, but that same intelligence is evident in the way the actress holds the camera and lets us see her character thinking, and feeling.

Martin Starr has a nice turn as a pipe-smoking, Gogol-quoting nerd who's too smart to be working at Adventureland, but is nonetheless. It's one of those places, and one of those jobs, where you just get stuck - until you get unstuck, and move on with your life. You're not necessarily wiser for the experience, but not sorry you had it, either.


•• Philly, Gary Thompson: There's a good reason that Kristen Stewart won the female lead in the "Twilight" franchise.

She can be the most attractive girl in the group without being the prettiest - you get why she catches the eye of the school's alpha vampire, but she's accessible enough to invite regular-gal identification.

Stewart occupies the same space
in "Adventureland" playing Emma, a bored teen working a summer theme-park job who takes an interest in clumsy newbie James (Jesse Eisenberg), a brainy kid who's intriguingly out of place in his no-brainer job.

James' ticket for Ivy League grad school is revoked when his dad loses his job, stranding him in Pittsburgh with a degree in comparative literature. He takes a minimum-wage job at the park (actually Kennywood Park, in Pittsburgh) and views it as purgatory until he spots Emma.

"Adventureland" has an easy-going comic surface, and a lot of the charm comes from its time (1987) and place. There's always something uniquely fun about revisiting the crazy quilt of '80s music - kids drink beer and talk about Lou Reed while listening to a Foreigner cover band. And writer-director Greg Mottola ("Superbad") makes wonderful use of throwback Kennywood, adding to the infectious nostalgia trip.

Mottola keeps it light, and underplays the dark side of Em that Jesse finds so alluring - her mom is dead, her dad has hastily remarried and Em is confused and unsure of herself. She sends mixed signals to James, which he finds predictably fascinating.

James is bright, but also young and naive enough to think that true love will solve Emma's problems. And he's so thunderstruck he doesn't notice that Em's mysterious (to him) lack of self-esteem has led her into an exploitive affair with the theme park's local (married) stud (Ryan Reynolds).

Eventually, the movie gets slightly serious as feelings are hurt and emotional wounds are opened - but only slightly. Mottola keeps it loose, and devotes ample time to the movie's loony cast of side characters. Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, for example, are the wigged-out family-owner-proprietors.

"Adventureland" is not as uproarious as "Superbad," but has a little more heart, and is a cut above most one-crazy-summer teen movies.


•• Flick Filosopher, MaryAnn Johanson: Summer of 1987. Oh, these kids are my temporal peeps. That was my first summer after high school, and even though this is the first summer after undergrad for James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) in Adventureland, it feels familiar to me. Hell, writer-director Greg Mottola — Superbad filmmaker and Apatow alum — based his script on his own experiences at the real Adventureland in Farmingdale, New York, on Long Island, not far from where I grew up, mostly. So there’s a vibe that feels real to me.

And yet…
I like James. A lot. Eisenberg (The Hunting Party, The Village) has a quirky, sensitive cool that distinguishes him from the slew of teen or almost-teen movie ranks of the moment (Eisenberg is 25, in fact). He takes a job at the titular suburban Pittsburgh amusement park because he’s gotta make some dough for grad school — Columbia Journalism! — in the fall, since Mom and Dad have hit some rough economic times and won’t be able to help him out like they’d planned. (Tell me that don’t sound like the wheel of history comin’ round again quarter of a century on: the realities of the late 80s Reagan recession sound awfully familiar in the early days of the Great Recession.) But he doesn’t belong there. It’s just that his degree in Renaissance literature or whatever makes him utterly useless in a world that does not value such things.

Oh, but James is a sweetie, thanks to Eisenberg and Mottola’s frequently lovely script: he reads poetry and snarks about the “criminal abuse of the laws of perspective” and cracks gently bookish wit, and he earns mostly nothing but blank stares in return when what he seeks is a soulmate. My heart broke for James more than once, this romantic stuck in the smallness of the suburbs, where all the games are fixed, and I don’t just mean the ones on the midway at Adventureland. He is dedicated to finding a bit of spirit and beauty and art and true love amid the vomit and the shit and the calculated inebriation — you know, the kind that helps you get through it all — of real, dull, tedious life.

And I appreciate — hell, I love — that Mottola has taken the trappings of the juvenile grossout comedy the likes of which are clogging our multiplexes these days, and said, “Look, it’s true that our days are full of shit and vomit and sadness and people trying to pretend they don’t see that and people trying to cover up the pain with random sex and overdoing the drugs and booze, but it’s possible to tell a story about that without celebrating it.” And Mottola does that, avoids the celebration without avoiding the harsh reality, with his tale of James, who’s still trying to figure out the sex thing and the love thing — he doesn’t want to “just fuck” some girl “anyway,” even if he’s not in love with her: he wants an emotional connection. And the fact that that reality of many, maybe most men’s lives is so often ignored by these kinds of films makes this seem more satisfying here than it probably should. There’s a genuine, honest sincerity to James’s fumblings with fellow Adventureland employee Em, who’s got issues of her own, and Kristen Stewart (Twilight, Jumper), in the role, is an elegant foil and match for James — for all her youth (Stewart is only 19), she has an unexpectedly gritty yet open edge.

Still, for all the plot clichés Adventureland avoids — not to mention all the retro mockery it refuses to indulge in — it never truly catches fire. I like James and Em and their friends — Martin Starr (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Knocked Up) as the pipe-smoking literary nerd Joel is particularly riveting, and refreshingly resistant to stereotyping — but I wish I liked their story more. I wish I didn’t feel like I’d seen it a hundred times before.


•• About Entertainment, Jürgen Fauth: Rating 5/5
Among studio publicists and audiences alike, "coming of age" is not a popular label. Perhaps there's a whiff of mustiness about stories that purport to teach lessons that most of us would claim to have learned long ago. Bildungsroman has ceded its spot as everyone's favorite German compound word to Fahrvergnügen, or maybe Weltschmerz. The press notes for Greg Mottola's new film propose "facing-adulthood comedy" -- but no matter what you call the genre, Adventureland is a lovely and hilarious reminder that the bittersweet days at the tail end of youth are as potent a topic as ever.

The young man facing adulthood is James Brennan, comparative literature major and virgin (Jesse Eisenberg in another terrifically smart and awkward performance). The comedy results from his canceled graduation trip. Instead of touring Europe, James who "sometimes reads poetry for pleasure," takes a job running game booths at a seedy Pennsylvania amusement park. It's 1987. Curious characters abound, absurd situations ensue, and a beautiful girl breaks James' heart -- Em, played by Twilight star Kristen Stewart. Judging from synopsis and trailer alone, Adventureland may seem like a film we've seen before.

What sets writer-director Mottola's third film (after The Day Trippers and Superbad) apart is its uncanny verisimilitude. The immaculate late-eighties soundtrack features Whitesnake, Crowded House, Wang Chung, and The Cure. Falco rocks "Amadeus" on repeat. Throw-away details feel lived in and real, from the highbrow references (James reads Henry Miller) to the authentic video arcade bleeps. Mottola once worked as a carnie, and he gets the vomiting kids and horny adolescents who navigate Adventureland's stale corndogs and rickety rides exactly right.

Script and cast handle characters with equally admirable depth and empathy. When Em -- black eyeliner, denim jacket, Hüsker Dü shirt -- rescues shy James from being knifed over a giant panda doll, he's hopelessly smitten. In 1987, that meant mix tapes and getting high in unused bumper cars. They make out on couches. But Em has secrets, and you can't come of age without heartbreak. The characters surrounding James and Em are recognizable comic types -- the nerdy friend (Martin Starr), the creepy older guy with the muscle car (Ryan Reynolds), the sexy ditz (Margarita Levieva). But even Bill Hader's hopped-up theme park owner is drawn with enough peculiarity to appear as an only slightly exaggerated version of a real person.

For all its sharp writing and well-earned laughs, Adventureland never trades in the ironic mode of Rushmore and Napoleon Dynamite. Instead, the film is suffused with a warm, generous glow reminiscent of Almost Famous. But compared to Cameron Crowe's ode to his '70s adolescence, Adventureland's nostalgia feels more clear-eyed and humble. Regardless of the period, few movies about these universal rites of passage get quite as close to what it actually felt like. I have little doubt the film's appeal will prove to be timeless.


•• Newsreview, Jonathan Kiefer: Rating 3/5
Writer-director Greg Mottola’s coming-of-age dramedy limns late-’80s service-industry ennui, with a little bit of sass, some self-congratulation and much period-appropriate music. Jesse Eisenberg stars as a brainy, uptight college grad stuck in a summer job at a vaguely seedy suburban amusement park. He’d been hoping for a trip to Europe, but at least he finds a few kindred spirits among his co-workers—particularly Joel (Martin Starr) as a jaded Gogol-reading regular and a sexily sullen love interest played by Kristen Stewart. Generally it’s a satisfying ride, with good casting and performances sometimes making up for an ultimately unremarkable script. Like its titular recreation area, the movie might more frankly have been called Diversionland, but who’d buy tickets to that?


•• One Guy's Opinion, Dr. Frank Swietek: Rating C+
Greg Mottola’s picture takes its title from the run-down Pittsburgh amusement park around which its plot is set, and surprisingly, from the director of the raucous “Superbad,” “Adventureland” feels a little run-down itself. Yet another quirky coming-of-age tale, it’s amiable enough but rather lackadaisical, and generates neither the laughs nor the insight needed to set it apart from the pack.

Set in the summer of 1987, Mottola’s script centers on James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), a recent college grad whose plans to travel to Europe with his rich classmate and then go to Columbia’s grad school in the fall are scuttled when his father, an alcoholic, is demoted at work. Forced to get a summer job and finding that his lit degree qualifies him for nothing, he becomes part of the apathetic staff at the park run by the goofy husband-and-wife team of Bobby and Paulette (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig).

James is an overeducated, nerdy fellow (and still a virgin, of course) whose life is, predictably, changed by his summer experiences. He develops a friendship with older co-worker Joel (Martin Starr), an erudite but scruffy guy who’s unlucky in love. Even more importantly, he gets close—platonically, that is—to free-spirited Em (Kristen Stewart), with whom he shares his store of weed. What he doesn’t realize is that the girl has domestic troubles: not only is she stuck with a horrible stepmother and oblivious father, but she’s having an affair with smooth operator Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds), the park’s married maintenance man. And the plot thickens further when sexpot Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva) shows an interest in James, too.

These are agreeable characters for the most part (even if James is initially pretty irritating, he grows on you), and many have occasional moments of insight and humor. But there aren’t enough of them. Generally “Adventureland” just mopes along in much the same way as its protagonist, remaining stuck in low gear. Of course, it has its share of coarse humor—slackerdom does provide ample openings for jokes about drugs and alcohol, and there are the usual low blows to the crotch, as well as several upchuck sequences. But it’s more restrained than in many pictures of this ilk. And naturally the movie gets more hyper toward the close, when James finds out about Em’s assignations with Mike and gets his dander up, and later decides that his rejection of her was a mistake and takes off, “Graduate”-like, to rectify it. But after the relative sedateness that’s preceded, that seems to have been trucked in from a different picture entirely.

Within this context, Eisenberg does as well as could be expected with James. The angular, somewhat whiny actor actually makes the character moderately likable, if not really endearing, by the close. Stewart is solid as Em, and with his scruffily hangdog appearance Starr gets some chuckles as Joel, as do Wiig and Hader as the slightly daffy park owners. Others, however, are less lucky. Levieva is arch, Reynolds is his usual smarmy self, and Matt Bush, as James’s dumbbell best friend, starts out annoying and stays in that mode throughout. (You want to strangle him, and wonder why somebody doesn’t.)

Maybe it’s part of Mottola’s directorial vision that his pictures should look kind of grubby—certainly “Superbad” did—and if so, cinematographer Terry Stacey has certainly done his job; the picture makes Pittsburgh appear a pretty dumpy town. But to be fair, the lackluster visuals are complemented by a snappy score of pop songs cobbled together by music supervisor Tracy McKnight, which should make for a desirable CD.

More so than the DVD, I’m afraid.


•• Orlando Weekly, Justin Strout: Rating 5/5
Greg Mottola's summer memoir plays a lovely game

There has not been a more horribly mismarketed film this year than writer-director Greg Mottola’s tender bildungsroman, Adventureland. Distributed by Miramax Films, the company apparently saw Mottola’s last directorial outing, Superbad, and the presence of SNL standouts Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as an opportunity to jump on the Apatovian bandwagon, so the trailers and TV spots for an affecting, emotionally naked coming-of-age tale cast the film as a moderately funny romp of drugs, sex and one- liners instead.

That couldn’t be further from the truth. Working from an autobiographical snippet of his youth, Mottola presents James Brennan (the fantastic Jesse Eisenberg, who comes off like Michael Cera with a heart), a grad-school wannabe whose parents fall on hard times, leaving his European backpacking trip and advanced studies on hold, at least for the summer. In need of tuition money and armed with a bag of joints, a car and his father’s hidden liquor stash, Brennan takes a job at Adventureland, a run-down carnival of broken dreams and stalled maturity.

He’s tasked with manning the “games” area, a sucker’s playpen of rigged skill challenges like water-gun horse races and mannequin top-hat shoots. Brennan’s informed by management (Hader and Wiig) that he’s a “games” person, which he discovers is more of an insult than it seems at first. Whereas the rides are operated by the outgoing cool kids, the games area is a no-man’s-land of stoners and dorks, which is fine by them.

It’s here that Brennan meets the damaged but heart-stealing Em (Twilight’s Kristen Stewart, at her most beautiful). Em is the kind of trouble grad students like Brennan and life-weary losers (a subtly brilliant Ryan Reynolds as the park’s maintenance man) alike can fall in love with. Her mother recently passed away, and in addition to her guilt over that, she tacks on plenty more for good measure. But she’s also smart, funny and completely aware of how absurd her station in life has become.

In fact, all the characters in Adventureland are self-aware to some extent, for better or worse. When the normally put-together Brennan starts to slip into the bad habits of his workplace associates, his mother calls his behavior exactly what it is: regression. Brennan missed his opportunity to move forward, spent the summer in idle and is starting to slide backward. In another instance of smart writing, the movie begins with an American Pie-esque scene of a keg party at which Brennan’s friends berate him for his virginity. But never does Brennan waver from his simple (and morally unburdened) mantra that he hasn’t met the right girl. Mottola recognizes the teen-comedy sand trap and navigates it with a Tiger Woods–like elegance.

Adventureland is one of the best films of the year because it sticks by its own heart. Mottola sets his film in 1987, but doesn’t play the period for excessive nostalgia. Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love” is a plot point, but it’s not thrown in simply for credibility, a la the name-dropping soundtrack of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. The film gives us a summer-love romance, but it’s real, consequential and believable – so much so that these characters linger in your heart long after the movie’s over, just like the girl you fell in love with that summer long ago.


•• The Austin Chronicle, Marjorie Baumgarten: Rating 3,5/5
Amazingly, Adventureland is only the third feature film on talented director Mottola’s résumé. In the intervening years since 1996 – when he debuted as a writer-director with Daytrippers, a comic gem of family frustration and unity – Mottola completed an array of TV assignments, many of them for the new century’s rising comedy kingpin, Judd Apatow. It would still be years before his work on Apatow’s Undeclared landed Mottola in position to direct 2007’s megalaugher Superbad, which was produced by Apatow and scripted by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Now back as a writer and director, Mottola delivers a movie that is closer in comedic spirit to the sweet and soulful Daytrippers than to the rad and raunchy Superbad, although all three films share an affinity for single compound-word titles. In Adventureland, Mottola’s comic facility is on display: More than delivering assured punch lines, the filmmaker sustains the lighthearted atmosphere through steady character development, studious period detail, and narrative integrity. It’s a story about the summer that changed a young man’s life, the type that’s both been overtold yet is still full of potential. For James Brennan (Eisenberg, best known as the older brother in The Squid and the Whale), the summer begins when his plans for a trip to Europe between the end of college and the start of graduate school are scuttled when his parents’ economic shortfall forces him to return home to Pennsylvania and take a job to save money for the start of the fall semester.

Specializing in Renaissance studies, James jokes that unless somebody needs a fresco painted, there’s no work out there for which he’s qualified. Despairing of his prospects, he accepts a job at the semidilapidated local amusement park of the film title. Adventureland is set in the summer of 1987, but rather than giving the film a dated feel, the period placement automatically makes Adventureland a kindred spirit to such Eighties teen-on-the-verge-of-adulthood comedies as Risky Business and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Plus, placing the film in the past may also allow the audience for this R-rated film to more easily relate the story to the crummy work experiences of its own youth. You also get the sense that you’re in good hands as the Velvet Underground’s “Here She Comes Now” plays over the opening credits and Eighties-appropriate music plays on the soundtrack (the Replacements, Hüsker Dü, the annoying loop of “Rock Me Amadeus” that plays nonstop at the amusement park, and additional music contributions from Yo La Tengo). The plentiful music references become part of the plot as they create connections that bind (or distance) the characters to (or from) one another. The supporting characters are all given their due (among them Starr as the amusement park’s gloomy Gogol scholar, Hader and Wiig as the daffy couple who manage the park, and Reynolds as the older ride repairman who gets girls with his claim to having once jammed with Lou Reed), while James’ primary focus turns to the troubled Em (Stewart, who filmed this before her Twilight superstardom). Adventureland is a confident return to the kind of teen comedy that’s funny without being raunchy, youthful without being juvenile, and reflective without hitting you over the head with anything heavier than an amusement-park Whac-a-Mole mallet.


•• AskMen UK, David Nusair: Set in 1987, Adventureland casts Jesse Eisenberg as James Brennan, an affable college graduate who finds himself forced to take a menial job at a low-rent amusement park after his extravagant summer plans fall by the wayside. Initially miserable, James quickly discovers a series of perks that ultimately come with his new position, including friendship with several quirky figures (played by Martin Starr and Ryan Reynolds) and a possible romance with a spunky coworker (Kristen Stewart).

Though Greg Mottola made his directorial debut in 1996 with the well-regarded indie The Daytrippers, the filmmaker’s place on Hollywood’s A-list wasn’t cemented until he took the helm of the monstrously successful 2007 Michael Cera/Jonah Hill comedy Superbad. With Adventureland, Mottola mines his own experiences working in a theme park to offer up a laid-back yet uncommonly authentic comedy revolving around young adults. The irresistibly freewheeling and lighthearted vibe eventually does grow tiresome, however, as Mottola relies heavily on some of the most overused clichés possible. Ultimately, the goodwill built up by the cast is wasted. The movie limps toward its anti-climactic conclusion, with Mottola’s efforts at replicating John Hughes’ signature of blending laughs with pathos falling totally flat.

Despite the film’s various deficiencies, Adventureland does boast a number of attributes that will appeal to a good number of its viewers -- with the central character’s coming-of-age storyline infused with myriad truths and relatable elements. Eisenberg steps into the shoes of a typically indecisive 20-something guy, with his angst over his future certainly something we’ve all gone through at one time or another. Although Mottola bogs the proceedings down with superfluous characters and subplots, there’s little doubt that James’ on-again-off-again dalliance with Stewart’s Em perfectly captures the tentative feeling of a first adult relationship. The ‘80s-centric atmosphere means that viewers over a certain age will probably connect to the material to a greater extent than their younger counterparts. In fact, the nostalgia factor might be enough for some people to overlook Adventureland’s flaws.


StarTribune, Colin Covert: 'Adventureland' is a warmhearted reflection on the bumper-car emotions of young adulthood.

"Adventureland" takes us on a great ride. Writer/director Greg Mottola's followup to his hit "Superbad" is the most utterly and engagingly human youth comedy I've seen in ages. While most films of its ilk deliver raunchy mischief, this is one of those sly, exceptional comedies in the mold of "Juno" or "The Graduate," a worldly wise movie about immature characters.

James (Jesse Eisenberg) anticipated a summer trip to Europe after graduating from college and before starting graduate school in New York. Things have not been going well at work for his dad, though, so James must find a summer job. Bright and painfully earnest though he is, he lacks marketable skills: "I'm not even qualified for manual labor," he laments. So he signs on with the local employer of last resort, running game booths at the local amusement park.

Shabby Adventureland isn't such an amusing place to work. The games are rigged so that no one ever wins the big stuffed panda. The customers (hooligans or snide, slumming preppies) try to cheat anyway, and the proprietors ("SNL" icons Bill Hader and Kristin Wiig) never crack a smile. But there's a bigger adventure awaiting James. As he picks up lessons on human nature from his co-workers and flirts with his first serious relationship, he's entering the pell-mell bumper car ride of adulthood.

The film is a perfect storm of heart, humor, smart writing and spot-on casting. Eisenberg perfects the cautious, deadpan anxiety he patented in "The Squid and the Whale." When James offers a letter of recommendation praising his lawn-mowing skills to a prospective boss, you'd think he was presenting references from Harvard Business School.

He's an uptight Renaissance studies major, a combination of innocence and wisdom so besotted with the ideal of romantic love that he has preserved his virginity. He's always reining in impetuous impulses, a difficult challenge when he begins to fall for lovely, emotionally complicated Em (Kristen Stewart, "Twilight"), a co-worker at the park. And she returns the feeling, kind of, because he's so different from most of the Pittsburgh bad boys in her orbit.

Eisenberg and Stewart nail the turbulence of youth, when parents exemplify the enormous injustices of the world and romantic yearning can ignite joy or jealousy depending on the moment. The supporting roles are equally well-cast. Ryan Reynolds is subtle and poignant as Connell, the park's ultracool mechanic and local music legend, who allegedly once jammed with Lou Reed. Reynolds makes a bid for the kind of dramedy cred that Bill Murray has won in recent years; he lets us see that the charismatic Connell knows he'll soon be a sad man living in a rut.

The laughs bounce higher because the characters have depth and the emotional facts of their lives are observed honestly. When Connell and James say goodbye at the end of the season, it's unclear which one is the adult and which the child. And the final scene is a gift. James may not be on the same page with the person he needs, but they're in the same room, and that's a start.


•• AV Club, Nathan Rabin: Rating A-
In Adventureland, Jesse Eisenberg stars as a kinder, gentler version of the insufferable faux intellectual he played in The Squid And The Whale, a deep thinker in a superficial ’80s world where artsy pretensions don’t survive a long, boozy, pot-scented season in purgatory working at a second-rate amusement park. Eisenberg’s innocence is nicely matched by the coltishness of suddenly ubiquitous Twilight breakout star Kristen Stewart. Watching Eisenberg fall in love with Stewart is like watching the mating rituals of photogenic wild animals who care about books and interesting films.

Greg Mottola’s follow-up to Superbad casts Eisenberg as a virginal recent college graduate who gets a shitty job running games at an amusement park as a way of passing time before his real life begins. At work, Eisenberg falls helplessly in love with a co-worker (Stewart), a brooding, intense young woman stuck in a go-nowhere affair with married man Ryan Reynolds. Mottola digs into the repertory company of Superbad producer Judd Apatow to score juicy supporting turns from Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, and especially Martin Starr, who steals the film as Eisenberg’s acerbic friend.

Adventureland captures with humor and heart the way workplaces can become encapsulated universes with elaborate traditions, unspoken rules, and loose hierarchies. It’s a poignant, very funny Graduate-like immersion in post-collegiate angst that only begins to devolve into Some Kind Of Wonderful/Pretty In Pink melodrama in its last half hour. Reynolds, who has thankfully shed the frat-boy smirkiness of his early performances, does a nice job conveying the duality of a character who’s a rock star and the epitome of cool to the teens and early twentysomethings he works with, but a big loser to pretty much everyone else. In a lesser film, his character would be a villain, but Adventureland refreshingly inhabits a world without clear-cut heroes or bad guys, just richly realized characters struggling to get by. In Adventureland, Eisenberg learns the hard way that amusement parks aren’t the only place with games rigged so the honest and trusting always lose.


•• Film.com, Cole Haddon: Rating 7,5/10
The worst job I ever had was working at K-Mart when I was 15. It lasted for all of five, maybe six days before I quit in the middle of a shift because the degradation of being bossed around by people more than twice my age but seemingly half as intelligent as me was just too much for my teenaged brain to handle. The worst job writer-director Greg Mottola (Superbad) ever had, it turns out, was as a games operator at an amusement park in Long Island called Adventureland, which, when I think about it now, means that K-Mart job I had was nothing to be embarrassed by. He’s turned his misadventures there into a new indie comedy also called Adventureland, which he presents as a summer dreamworld populated by dysfunctional beauties (Kristen Stewart), chaste sluts (Margarita Levieva), married rides mechanics (Ryan Reynolds), and eccentric owners (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig). When European-bound college grad James (Jesse Eisenberg) has his funding yanked by suddenly broke parents, he winds up trapped here for three months in order to save money – and instead falls in love and discovers what kind of man he has it in him to be. It’s a fun, surprisingly poignant story filled with some great comic and even dramatic performances, but unfortunately lacks the laugh-out-loud moments that made Superbad such a ride.

The Good - Adventureland is set in 1987, and it feels like it. Unlike a lot of writers or directors who look at the decade as an opportunity for ridicule, Mottola celebrates the music, big hair, and bad styles. Even the hazy camerawork suggests nostalgia for those bygone years of his youth. Characters like James and Stewart’s Em feel out of place for their own reasons, and consequently provide just enough perspective for us to remember the absurdity of the culture around them, but never with disdain.

The performances are also almost universally impressive, especially with regards to Stewart and Reynolds. Reynolds plays largely against type here; he’s still handsome and a lady’s man, but, if the movie has a villain, he’s it. Married happily according to him, he’s notorious for carrying around a guitar and making claims about once jamming with Lou Reed to get with the younger park employees – like Em, who’s trying to cope with the recent death of her mother and his father’s new wife by sleeping with him. There’s a sadness to both of the characters that’s hard not to empathize with.

The Bad - For a movie that succeeds in so many ways as a love song to the 80s, Adventureland fails to deliver any potentially iconic moments that would help propel it to the classic status. There are no boom boxes held overhead, no gloved fists punching at the air. There’s a kid running around at dusk shooting bottle rockets off like he’s got hold of a grenade launcher, but, as memorable as the image is, it doesn’t resonate emotionally. That’s probably the movie’s biggest problem; it’s rife with sentiment, but never reaches a boiling point that hits you in the gut. It comes close in one scene where Em confronts her snarky stepmom and yanks off her wig, but the rest of it, even the climax, feels a bit…well, tepid.

The Ugly - Only that Hader and Wiig aren’t on screen more. These two manage to become the best parts of almost everything they appear in.


•• Dustin Putman: Rating 3/4
With the passage of time comes a greater perspective on the past. How often has one suffered through high school or college, or meandered through a lazy summer of seeming immobility with their friends, only to gaze back upon it years later and wish, if only for a moment, that they could have those months or years back? "Adventureland," a semi-autobiographical slice-of-life from director Greg Mattola (2007's "Superbad"), doesn't linger on this point, or even spell it out, but it makes it just the same. Gently comic rather than boisterously broad and profane like the trailers and television ads deceptively suggest, the film gets laughs instead from human behavior and witty observation (when "Satin Lives!" is found spray-painted on a wall, a character suggests the culprit must be a textile-worshipping cult). These moments of humor are just an aside, however, from its poignant depiction of being an adult on the verge of larger responsibilities, but still fleetingly young enough to act and party like a kid.

With his graduation from college, James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) has been promised a special gift from his parents (Jack Gilpin, Wendie Malick): the chance to backpack across Europe for the summer before continuing his education at New York's Columbia University in the fall. When his parents hit hard times and his father's alcoholism rises as his salary is downsized, these plans fly right out the window. Suddenly faced with no funds for his future, James has no choice but to get a job. The one he finds—working in the games field at downtrodden Pittsburgh amusement park Adventureland—isn't exactly his dream position, but he's more than happy to plug away at it day in and day out when he meets, and quickly becomes smitten, with alluring co-worker Em Lewin (Kristen Stewart).

Home for a few months from NYU but not on the best of terms with her father (Josh Pais) and his haughty new wife (Mary Birdsong), Em is a troubled and confused soul who also happens to be terribly smart and a whole lot of fun. As the summer presses forward, James and Em become good friends, and then maybe more. That she is also in the midst of an affair with unhappily married maintenance man Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds) is something she hates herself for, and something that James is destined to eventually discover, for better or for worse.

Oh, yeah. "Adventureland" is set in 1987, and James is still a virgin. When a lesser, more commercialized product might have made a big deal about these two details, writer-director Greg Mattola (harkening back to the winning, loose style of his debut picture, 1997's "The Daytrippers") makes sure that his film isn't defined by them. Sure, James hasn't had sex yet, but it is not like he is a pariah. Indeed, he might not be the most headstrong of guys, but he is also not a mumbling, awkward stereotype who can't get a proper sentence out while talking with the opposite sex. By contrast, Em has more experience behind her, and when she presses James on his sexual prowess and the truth comes out, she finds it rather endearing. "But," she adds, "could you not use the word 'intercourse' anymore?"

In regards to the decade in which the film is set, Mattola gives the '80s a respective tribute, but doesn't overdo it or make a mockery of the period. Thus, luscious ride controller Lisa P (Margarita Levieva") might style herself like a Madonna wannabe, and the gangly, pipe-smoking Joel (Martin Starr), who hangs with the same crowd as James and Em, might mention how he's saving up to put a compact disc player in his car, but these are treated more as a comment on the times than a "Wedding Singer"-style excuse for a gag. A lot of the credit not only should go to the assured screenplay, but to the development of an ensemble who talk, act and think like real people rather than predictable, tried-and-true cinematic types. Lisa P, for example, could have easily been a shallow, one-note creation, but she shows a genuine interest in James and steadfastly sticks to her own value system. Likewise, Mike Connell isn't viewed as James' snarky adversary, but as a flawed, slightly older guy who hasn't yet found what he's looking for out of life.

The soundtrack, filled with a near-constant stream of '80s music—both the hits and lesser-known cuts get their moment in the spotlight—is extensive and well-chosen. The songs are a valuable attribute, helping to layer scenes and bring out the emotion and immediacy of what is happening onscreen. Some favorites: Velvet Underground's "Pale Blue Eyes," underscoring the exact moment James falls in love with Em; Crowded House's "Don't Dream It's Over," played during the park's Fourth of July fireworks display; The Cure's "Just Like Heaven," wherein an experiment with pot cookies leads to a swirling ride on the bumper cars; and The Replacement's "Unsatisfied," beautifully introducing James, his future still in the air, to a dark, rainy, magical New York City.

Sharing certain personality traits reminiscent of Michael Cera, Jesse Eisenberg (2005's "The Squid and the Whale") plays the hero of the piece, James, as safe and unthreatening, but with just the right complexity and appeal to understand why Em, and later Lisa P, would like him. As object of affection and much more, Kristen Stewart (2008's "Twilight") is stunningly intuitive in her reading of Em, a young lady with more to worry about and grapple with than which boys like her. Stewart is a delight to watch throughout, but her tendency to rub her hands through her hair is one affectation that could be done without as she moves forward in her promising career. Ryan Reynolds (2008's "Definitely, Maybe") is reeled back as Mike Connell, and his understated performance pays off, while Margarita Levieva (2007's "The Invisible") is a force of bubbly energy as Lisa P. Getting lost in the background too often as married amusement park owners Bobby and Paulette, Bill Hader (2008's "Tropic Thunder") and Kristen Wiig (2007's "The Brothers Solomon") never rise beyond sketches. It is not that they don't fit in writer-director Greg Mattola's tapestry, but that he doesn't seem sure of what to do with them.

As a universal tale of the post-adolescent experience and that last gasp of freedom before the lurking pressures of societal expectation rear their ugly heads, "Adventureland" is knowledgeable, identifiable, and wise, virtually every bone in its body an honest one. If there are more subplots than the script can juggle and little actual concrete story—James' father's alcohol problem is brought up and never dealt with—it is the realistic vibrancy of the filmmaking and the underlying sense of nostalgia for years gone by that stirs the viewer most achingly. As James, Em, Joel, Lisa P and the rest of characters endure their jobs by day and party it up by night, making friendships frequently with a sell-by date, falling in love, searching their souls, testing the waters, and getting their hearts broken, they stand on the precipice of everything that is to come, and all the things they have known from childhood that will soon no longer be. Warts and all, these are the times of their lives, and they don't even know it. Going through it, do any of us?


•• Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan: The thing to know about "Adventureland" is not just that it has goals above its station but that it actually achieves them. With the help of a talented cast led by Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart and a potent soundtrack, writer-director Greg Mottola has taken that most overdone of contemporary genres, the coming-of-age story, and made it engaging, bittersweet and even fun.

It's been more than a decade since Mottola made his independent film debut with the underappreciated "The Daytrippers," and though he's had success as a toiler-for-hire in the Judd Apatow vineyards, directing both series television and "Superbad," it's good to see him back with a noticeably well-written film that has a genuine charm to it.

That doesn't mean that "Adventureland" reinvents the wheel. The outlines of the film's first-love plot are nothing if not familiar, and trace elements of best-forgotten genre conventions like gross-out scenarios and parents who are either losers or hopeless fools still remain.

What we get instead of something completely new is a demonstration of what the genre looks like when the wheel is custom-made. Character and dialogue are more important to the film's success than its plot, and though we can see where the story is headed well before the people who are living it, "Adventureland's" recognizable satisfactions feel well earned.

Mottola has set "Adventureland" in 1987, at a time when the writer-director was himself working in a venue similar to Kennywood, the park in Pittsburgh where the film was shot. It also adds to the substance of the story that its protagonists are old enough to either be in college or actually out of it, even though by taking a job at Adventureland they are, in the words of one employee, "doing the work of pathetic lazy morons."

This is definitely not the way James Brennan (Eisenberg) expected to be spending the summer between college graduation and a fall semester at New York's Columbia Journalism School. An awkward, brainy guy who reads poetry for pleasure and has idealistically remained a virgin because he doesn't want to divorce sex from love, James thought he'd be in Europe, the home of "sexually permissive cultures," but his father's financial reverses mandate a summer job.

Making things worse, James' employment experience, highlighted by his work for the Gordian Knot, the college literary magazine, is so feeble he's "not qualified for manual labor." So off he goes to Adventureland, where the games of chance are rigged, the rides make you throw up and anyone who can walk or chew gum can get a job.

James' co-workers, played by an expert group of performers, were cast by Ann Goulder both for their acting skills and fine comic sensibilities. "Saturday Night Live's" Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig play gung-ho park managers Bobby and Paulette; Martin Starr is Slavic studies nihilist Joel; Margarita Levieva is the classically desirable Lisa P; Ryan Reynolds is the park handyman Connell, handsome and married; and, finally, Stewart is the beautiful, enigmatic and very experienced Em. Though the audience, if not Em and James, will know from the first exchange of glances that something is in the air between these two, it is a tribute to the skills of both Eisenberg, excellent as the older son in "The Squid and the Whale," and Stewart, equally good as the ethereal Bella in "Twilight," that this relationship between opposites comes off as believable and attractive.

Em and James, he with his weakness for always being a beat behind life and she with her complicated emotional situation, are not obvious soul mates. But "Adventureland's" greatest strength is that it makes you see and believe in the yearning romantic potential these two see in each other. Stewart, who has a gift for investing completely in her characters, brings so much intensity to her part that she turns this nominally guy-centric venture on its head by making Em's problems the film's most compelling.

Initially "Adventureland" does seem like it gives with one hand and takes away with the other. On the plus side, its nearly 40-song soundtrack is expertly chosen to include everyone from the Replacements to the Velvet Underground, yet its determination to sporadically offer standard-issue humiliation humor is wearing. But with a cast that believed in one another and a writer-director who believed he didn't have to follow up "Superbad" with "SuperEvenBadder," "Adventureland" is the kind of adventure we could all use more of.


•• Sean Axmaker: Adventureland is more than just a chintzy theme park outside of Pittsburg, where college grad James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) spends a summer trying to save money for graduate school. It’s the real world adventures of life in the space between college and independence, that place where you think that you’re an adult but have yet to live outside of the bubble.

Greg Mottola’s semi-autobiographical coming of age comedy is as smart and perceptive as they come. It could be Superbad four years later, where the smart kid has embraced college and left his high-school world and identity far behind. College grad James reads poetry for pleasure, has been accepted to post-grad journalism school at Columbia and plans a summer bopping around Europe with his college buddies. Until his parents break the bad news: Dad has been demoted (this is the pre-downsizing generation) and the once upper-middle-class lifestyle loses a prefix. The European summer romp becomes a working vacation and he’s pulled back into the working class environs that he thought he left behind. If he’d given it any thought at all, that is. James hasn’t been all that aware of class and it’s clear that he got through college without a part-time job or work study. He’s unqualified for any job but Adventureland, a rickety park just a few notches above a county fair midway, and he’s sized up immediately by the park manager (Bill Hader, behind a mustache that deserves its own screen credit) as a “games” man, working rigged games in the midway, where “nobody wins a big-ass panda.”

As long as we’re tossing around comparisons, then think the cultural flashback of Dazed and Confused moved up a decade. It’s 1987 and park security is lax; one guy slips in with a knife that would impress Crocodile Dundee and he flashes it to James to get one of those big-ass pandas. But it’s not a total loss: he gets a great story and a memorable introduction to Emily “Em” Lewin (Kristen Stewart), short for Emily. Stewart has become the smart/cool/slightly sad teen sweetheart of the moment, thanks to her work in films like Into the Wild and Twilight. It has less to do with her outward appearance than a sometimes still, sometimes squirrelly presence that suggests such a complicated emotional life under the surface. She’s about the only thing that makes working the park bearable. Eisenberg suggests a guy who may have been a high school nerd and discovered in college that ambition and intelligence are actually pretty admirable qualities. He may be back in a social world he thought he left behind, but he arrives with a confidence in who he is. Only his literature-strewn conversation and dry sense of humor doesn’t connect with his fellow summer jobbers, most of them working class young adults who land here every year. Em is the only one who appreciates him. And she really appreciates his stash of joints (a going away present from his Europe-bound college buds), taking him out to the amusement park graveyard of broken rides and spare parts to get high and watch the lights. And talk. They have things on their minds and in their hearts that need to get worked through.

If Adventureland isn’t as funny as Mottola’s previous film Superbad, that’s hardly a criticism. The comedy is more organic, less extreme, lived in. When Em’s parents arrive home and catch James and Em making out on the couch, James leaps up and holds a pillow in front of him for the ensuing conversation. It’s not played for sex comedy farce but young adult discomfort, without the slapstick or the verbal jabs you get in the usual sex comedy. It’s funny, it awkward, its uncomfortable, and Apatow doesn’t feel the need to draw your attention to any one of those textures more than the other.

Mottola suggests the time and culture without falling into the cliché of the jukebox soundtrack of year-specific hits. “Rock Me Amadeus” drones on the amusement park PA so often that it threatens to drive some of the employees insane, but when the James and Em and the others slip back into their personal spaces, the soundtrack reflects their lives, not the current top forty. The music of their lives reaches back to the seventies; it’s their lifeline when they escape the job and need to reclaim their identity.

That identity is what Adventureland is about. They may be technically adults, but their social behavior hasn’t matured much beyond high school, except from reaching drinking age and leaving curfews behind. They try to act older and more mature, but most of them seem trapped in definitions formed long before. They don’t really see change in their future, and don’t seem to aspire to anything. Case in point: Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva), the film’s answer to a Jersey Girl. She’s the gum-chewing park babe with big hair and her T-shirt tied into a halter top who happily shimmies the downtime with her best friend to the whatever hit song is blasting over the park public address system in all its tinny glory. Her aspirations are limited by a lack of imagination and education, but Mottola isn’t condescending to her. She’s not a figure of ridicule or pity. Mike (Ryan Reynolds), the park maintenance guy and the elder statesmen of underachievers and geeks, is a little more complicated,. The geeks appreciate that this cool guy treats them as a co-worker, and the underachievers sit in awe of his way with the babes. The fact that he’s a married man and carries on affairs with girls ten years younger than him, impressing them with his side gig as a bar band guitarist and lies about jamming with Lou Reed, doesn’t seem to dim their favor. He really likes James and gives him kid genuine advice. Whether it’s helpful is another question, but it is sincere, which is all the more curious because James is smitten with Em and Mike is the reason she’s so careful about getting too involved James. He’s a bit pathetic, but Mottola doesn’t feel the need to call him out on it. He’s just another life lesson for James.

Greg Mottola made a strong feature debut in 1996 with The Daytrippers, a generous take on the dysfunctional family/scramble through the city comedy with a warm and respectful sense of humor and sense of character, but his career retreated into television until Superbad in 2008, where he brought his warmth and his character-based humor to the coming-of-age sex comedy. Adventureland is more than simply the next chapter of Superbad. It’s a coming-of-age story about relationships and responsibility and identity, written with an empathy for all the characters and directed with a sharp eye for telling detail and a sensitivity to honest social behavior and cruel social double standards. Because, despite the social currency of the term, coming-of-age doesn’t necessarily refer to sex. Sometimes it really is about growing up.


•• Eric Snider: Rating B+
Greg Mottola is currently best known, to the extent that he’s known at all, as the director of “Superbad” – a movie that you’d think didn’t even have a director for as often as he was mentioned in the reviews. That film belonged more to its writers, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who based the main characters (played by Jonah Hill and Michael Cera) on themselves. Mottola’s direction was fine, but it wasn’t “his” movie.

“Adventureland” is. Mottola wrote it himself, and it feels like a more personal project. And that’s its chief strength, too. Though viewers might enter “Adventureland” expecting a raunchy teen comedy a la “Superbad,” what they’ll actually find is an earnest coming-of-age story that’s both funny and sweet.

It’s set in Pittsburgh in the summer of 1987, as a level-headed young man named James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) has just graduated from college with a very useful degree in comparative literature and Renaissance studies. His parents’ planned gift of a trip to Europe has fallen through due to money problems (1987 was a lot like 2009!), so James is forced to take a summer job before heading to grad school in the fall.

The best thing he can find is a gig working carnival games at the local amusement park, Adventureland, where his lifelong neighbor and ostensible best friend, Frigo (Matt Bush), has worked seemingly forever. (Frigo is one of those hyper-active friends whose main job is to annoy you. We’ve all had those.) The owners, husband-and-wife team Bobby (Bill Hader) and Paulette (Kristen Wiig), are easygoing if a bit dotty, and the other employees are generally kind. Apart from having to fleece customers (those games are impossible to win, you know) and occasionally hose down vomit, it’s not a bad job.

James instantly notices Em (Kristen Stewart), a headstrong girl his age who also works the games and has a strict policy of not taking any crap from anyone. (When a clueless co-worker refuses to date another employee because he’s Jewish, LOOK OUT.) Em and James are mutually attracted – him to her because of her worldly ways and experience, her to him because he’s adorkable and naive.

Lurking in the periphery are colorful characters like Joel (Martin Starr), a Jewish-born atheist who reads philosophy and despairs of ever getting a girl, and Mike (Ryan Reynolds) the maintenance man, who is married but still flirts (and then some) with the female Adventureland staff.

The story has the feel of one plucked from experience, and Mottola fills the movie with authentic little touches: sneaking your parents’ car out of the driveway late at night by putting it in neutral until you’re down the street; the young-adult gossip grapevine that turns every romantic encounter into a melodrama; an amusement park with baffling ride names like “Flighing Dutchman,” which wouldn’t make sense even if it were spelled correctly.

But more than that, it’s the characters’ honest relationships with each other that provide emotional heft to support the comedy. The plot doesn’t hinge on contrived misunderstandings or lies, and James and Em and the others react to each other the way real people react. I’d call the film a “romantic comedy” if that term didn’t have such a negative (formulaic, unrealistic) connotation.

The only characters who stick out uncomfortably are the park owners, played by “SNL” stalwarts Hader and Wiig, who are terribly funny but seem like they belong in a different movie. (Interesting point: Hader and Seth Rogen stood out the same way in “Superbad,” too, as the farcical cops.)

Eisenberg and Stewart, both amply experienced in Hollywood, nonetheless still have a youthful innocence about them that serves “Adventureland” well. Ryan Reynolds, usually a glib jokester, is believable as a cad (but a cad with emotions), and the under-appreciated Martin Starr lends credibility as the requisite gawky guy.

The film could have been set in 2009 rather than 1987 except for one crucial thing: a wistful comedy about young love ought to make the viewer feel nostalgic for a bygone time. Even viewers who are the same age as James and Em – and who therefore weren’t alive in 1987 – will appreciate the film’s yearning for the past, even if “the past” just means last summer.