This isn't to say there aren't laughs in the movie, but this is a prime example where the trailer shows everything that's really funny. The trailer sticks with the laugh out loud moments, the more off the wall scenes when that's not what Adventureland is like...at all. There are some chuckles, a few times where I smiled so I feel the need to warn viewers going in; don't expect a comedy here. Much of the story and background reminded me of 2006's Starter for 10, based on a novel -- A Question of Attraction -- that deals with a teenager going away to college and seeing the world isn't always perfect. Granted, that's a pretty broad description of a lot of movies, but there are too many similarities to mention here between the two.
It's 1987 and James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) has just been informed by his parents that they won't be able to afford to send him to Europe for the summer, and that if he wants to attend Columbia in the fall he's going to have to help out with the money. That of course means...a summer job! He's not qualified for much and ends up taking a job at Adventureland, a local amusement park that's a little past its time and probably never really had a prime. From the weird bosses to the odd co-workers, Brennan thinks he'll never make it through the summer but ends up forming a friendship with Joel (Martin Starr), a co-worker who's basically an older version of James, while also falling fast for Em (Kristen Stewart). Maybe this summer won't be as bad as he thought (or not).
The special features on the DVD pointed out that Adventureland is in that small genre of summer movies where the main character takes a job/goes on a road trip/meets a girl before something big in their life is about to happen like going off to college or living in the real world. That description is appropriate, but that's also the problem. It has a feel of been there, done that almost right from the start. That's not always a bad thing, but where Superbad went in new directions, Adventureland never ventures too far away from the known. Any number of movies and/or TV shows have gone down this road before.
Star Jesse Eisenberg must have enrolled with Michael Cera when the duo went to acting school. Eisenberg underplays everything and barely cracks a smile the whole movie. His Brennan is a college grad who borders on the pretentious because of his knowledge of everything non-mainstream. I didn't dislike the character, but I didn't love him either. Eisenberg is a strong choice to play the awkward Brennan who has his fair share of moments that make you groan and wince all at once. As Em, Kristen Stewart seems to be playing Bella from Twilight (which I haven't seen), a teenager with some deep issues in her home life that translate not so well to her personal life. I think she's a good actor, but like Eisenberg, it takes the right part for her to be effective. She is cute, so she's got that going for her.
The movie is at its best when dealing with the supporting cast. The James/Em relationship is the heart of the movie, but the funny moments come from the rest of the cast. Starr has been great since he was on Freaks and Geeks and basically steals every scene he's in (watch HERE and HERE). He excels at the awkward moment, and there's a-plenty here. SNL stars Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig play Bobby and Paulette, Adventureland's owners trying to hold rein on this trainwreck of a park. Hader has one of the few obvious moments of humor as he protects his park and employees, and ends up having the movie's funniest moment. There's also Ryan Reynolds playing probably his least likable part as Connell, the park's maintenance man, Mike Bush as Frigo, James' "friend" and crotch-puncher, and Margarita Levieva as Lisa P., the requisite hot girl working at the park.
With the strong cast and the coming-of-age story, this is a movie worth watching, but it's not the one I thought I'd be watching going into it. The story especially in the last 30 minutes goes down a road that actually made me groan, wondering 'we're really going to take the story that way?' The ending resolves that to a point, but it feels like an episode of Dawson's Creek -- at best -- with the twist in story. It is a good movie but know what you're about to watch when you pick this one up.
Adventureland <----trailer (2009): ** 1/2 /****