(director/writer: Greg Mottola; cinematographer: Terry Stacey; editor: Anne McCabe; music: Yo La Tengo; cast: Jesse Eisenberg (James Brennan), Kristen Stewart (Em Lewin), Martin Starr (Joel Schiffman), Bill Hader (Bobby), Kristen Wiig (Paulette), Margarita Levieva (Lisa P.), Jack Gilpin (Mr. Brennan), Wendie Malick (Mrs. Brennan), Ryan Reynolds (Mike Connell), Matt Bush (Tommy Frigo), Paige Howard (Sue O’Malley), Dan Bittner (Pete O’Malley), Josh Pais (Mr. Lewin), Mary Birdsong (Francy), Ryan McFarland (Brad); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Ted Hope/Anne Carey/Sidney Kimmel; Miramax Films; 2009)
“Captures the uncertain feelings certain teens have in becoming young adults.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An appealing bittersweet cerebral coming-of-age flick set in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, during the hard economic times of the Reagan era in 1987. In its awkward angst-filled way and despite its many flaws (loses focus on its main story, as it meanders all over the place), it captures the uncertain feelings certain teens have in becoming young adults. My problem is that I couldn’t always relate to the film’s leads (the male is clueless and lacks compassion when it counts most and the female is usually too self-absorbed and brooding), in fact I found myself distancing myself more from them as the melodramatics picked up during the course of the story.
The semi-autobiographical film is written and directed by Greg Mottola (“Superbad “/”The Daytrippers”), who tries a sweeter approach than he did in Superbad. Mottola explores territory that has been much explored, which is not necessarily a fault. But nothing new is uncovered and the humor was not always forthcoming (it’s more wise than funny).
James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) is the idealistic, nerdy, gentle, virgin, wannabe journalist and recent college grad, receiving a B.A. in comparative literature and Renaissance studies, who finds out from his domineering mom (Wendie Malick) that his depressed alcoholic dad (Jack Gilpin) was demoted and he can’t afford to send James on the promised European summer vacation that was promised as a graduation present. James will now have to get a summer job to pay for tuition to Columbia’s graduate school of journalism, and thereby finds work in his hometown’s suburban Adventureland a seedy place, where the games are rigged, the food is disgusting and the loud music is unbearable. The crappy job has its rewards, though, as the innocent James is assigned as a carny for the horse-racing game and falls madly in love with intense co-worker, Em Lewin (Kristen Stewart), a tantalizing NYU student. He’s also befriended by his witty acerbic co-worker Joel Schiffman (Martin Starr), a fellow intellectual and major in Russian literature and admirer of Gogol, who is plain looking and gets rejected from a date who won’t go out with a Jew. Also making her presence felt is the theme park’s hottie, the curvaceous disco dancer named Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva), who has almost every guy in the park dreaming of taking her to bed except she’s only a cock tease who loves wiggling her ass without putting out. The peppy and forceful Bobby (Bill Hader) and his passive loyal opposite personality wife Paulette (Kristen Wiig) are the playland owners, who work well together to try to keep this second-rate operation going through grit and guile.
The storyline involves Em dating James while secretly screwing Connell (Ryan Reynolds), an older, married womanizing hunky local rocker and theme park maintenance man who claims to have once jammed with Lou Reed. Connell might seem cool to the teens, but in real-life he’s more like a loser leading a life of quiet desperation. In any case, with the mention of Reed’s name we then hear Satellite of Love, the film’s best musical piece of the more than 40 pop tunes played. The big problem for James is how to handle learning the girl he put on a pedestal is a slut, as he learns of her indiscretion from his best friend and co-worker, the playful troublemaker Frigo (Matt Bush).
Adventureland reeks from the smell of the tainted corn dogs, and if completely consumed might leave one with a bellyache. In the end, it shows that most people are suckers and can’t help themselves playing in real-life games that are rigged. The once too trusting but still self-confidant brainy James grows up fast and goes to NYC in the fall, unable to afford Columbia’s tuition but ready to move on with a job that will allow him to save money and attend grad school in the future. While in the Big Apple the romantic ex-carny also puts himself in the hands of the more experienced Em for some attention to his physical needs, as he learns to adjust his game plans in a practical way.
REVIEWED ON 4/13/2009 GRADE: B- https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/