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.