Adventureland August 11, 2015
Adventureland is your greatest summertime memory wrapped in self-loathing, walloping in the dread of the uncertain dilemmas of the future. One could say such angsty bittersweetness could only be found during the summer of senior year, high school or otherwise — too young to worry about vocational responsibilities, too old not to take on a crappy part-time job for the sake of saving up precious college/life money. Give or take, I’m living that unfortunate reality right at this moment: I begin attending university in late September, for now slaving over the ancient cash registers of Ross Dress for Less a few times a week. Working is the last thing one wants to do when there’s ample opportunity to make sweeping summertime memories, but when the beauty of a day off arrives, when years pass by and you’re working at your dream job, laughing fondly over the horror stories of past angry customers, such trivial matters begin to shift in their tone — what was once immediate, hellacious, turns rose-colored, nostalgic.
But I’m still not at that point yet, and neither are the twenty-somethings that spend their days collecting tiny paychecks at subpar amusement park Adventureland. They want to do something with their lives, but they aren’t quite sure how to just yet. The most prominent such employee is James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), a rich kid who, without warning, becomes a poor little one after his loaded parents announce that a recent job transfer will leave them mostly penniless. An Oberlin College graduate, he was planning on spending the summer in Europe with a close pal, returning in the fall to attend a journalism graduate school at Columbia University. But with his once-endless well completely dried up, he has to figure out how to make up the difference. With no job experience, the only institution that welcomes his unpreparedness is, unsurprisingly, Adventureland.
At first, he’s depressed when regarding his current state of life, continuously reminded to lighten up by his bosses (Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig) — it’s the worst summer of his life. But things slowly begin to sweeten when he develops a crush on coworker Em (Kristen Stewart), a “cool girl” with an affection for Lou Reed and a sneaking affection for James himself. But it’s hard for James to catch a real break: with his virginity intact, his progressively loud monetary issues following him around like an embittered stalker, and his burgeoning physical attraction to ride hand Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva) becoming stronger as Em’s intentions stay unclear, things may not turn out to be as sunnily coming-of-age movie as he’d like them to be.
The third film of Greg Mottola (and follow-up to 2007 classic Superbad), Adventureland is a tender-hearted comedy that gazes upon its many characters with deep tenderness while also taking the time to build genuine laughs and genuine dimension. It’s the kind of movie where we could sit passively as the characters talk for hours upon hours upon hours — Eisenberg and Stewart, in particular, have a sort of chemistry so fluent that it’s only natural for us to want to see them trade witty anecdotes for as long as possible.
But best about Adventureland is the way Mottola captures that awkward-but-vital time that bridges the gap between innocent youth and terrifying adulthood; the characters don’t see it, but as they make memories at their shitty jobs together, as they guffaw over booze and pot, as they reveal things about themselves they would never normally admit to anyone, we can see that these restless souls will make successes out of themselves one day and spend their extra time off calling up the friends they used to know. Because Adventureland really is a great summertime memory wrapped in self-loathing: euphoric, restless, fun-seeking, with just a hint of painful uncertainty peeking in the background. It’s a hidden gem, making the most of Eisenberg and Stewart’s underrated talents and the most of a stellar supporting cast (Martin Starr, Levieva). Few films have everyman charisma — Adventureland is one of them. B+