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"ADVENTURELAND"
(2009) (Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Dramedy: When his post-graduation trip to Europe is canceled, a young man ends up taking a menial summer job at a local amusement park where he falls for one of his coworkers.
PLOT:
Having just graduated from college, James Brennan (JESSE EISENBERG) is looking forward to a European trip with his friend with whom he'll live in New York City come fall. But the summer trip is scuttled when his parents (JACK GILPIN & WENDIE MALICK) inform him that they can no longer afford it due to his dad being demoted at work.

With no useable skills that might land him a decent summer job, James ends up working at Adventureland, the local amusement park run by Bobby (BILL HADER) and Paulette (KRISTEN WIIG). Besides lamenting the notion of working all summer with a kid he grew up with, Tommy Frigo (MATT BUSH), who has a thing for punching him in the crotch, James isn't happy when Bobby turns down his request to run a ride.

Instead, he ends up assigned to work one of the carny games, much like Joel Schiffman (MARTIN STARR) who has a realistic but droll view of himself and general outlook on life. He's attracted to sexpot Lisa P (MARGERITA LEVIEVA) who's returned for another summer of work at the park -- but he eventually ends up drunkenly making out with another young employee, Sue (PAIGE HOWARD) -- while James finds himself drawn to Em Lewin (KRISTEN STEWART), a pretty girl who's disillusioned with her life. Little does James know, however, that she's secretly having an affair with Mike Connell (RYAN REYNOLDS), the park's married maintenance man who becomes something of James' older mentor.

As the various young people schlep through their menial tasks at the park day and night through the summer, they must contend with various issues, including budding romances and thoughts about their futures.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
While most everyone's had one or more summer jobs in their young lives before eventually landing real, full-time work, the most notable aren't always those that are directly related to one's future career path. Instead, some of the more memorable ones are the most boring, banal and/or intellectually demeaning of the bunch.

What makes them stand out goes beyond dealing with all of that, as it often stems from the camaraderie of experiencing the same with coworkers in the same boat and the friendships and even romances -- however temporary they might be -- that often arise. And as irony would have it, the jobs involving all of those elements that stick with most people are the ones that occur the summer after high school and/or college graduation when such hourly workers are expecting so much more from their work and themselves.

Writer/director Greg Mottola, who made an indie splash with "The Daytrippers" (1997), spent some time in scripted TV programs and then made a big screen return with "Superbad," nicely captures all of the above in "Adventureland," a funny, sometimes sweet and, on occasion, surprisingly adept examination of life and its small disappointments.

Set in the 1980s and featuring a great soundtrack from that era (even when some of the characters correctly point out the tortuous nature of hearing the occasional mediocre to bad song repeated ad nauseam), the pic is reportedly something of a semi-autobiographical work for Mottola who worked at a Long Island amusement park during that very period.

Although the details are obviously different, it could very well be my story as well, having toiled away in meaningless jobs of that decade, but experiencing summer love, etc. post graduation. And considering my soft spot for seaside amusement parks, this offering had me from its title and brief description.

Of course, that alone isn't enough for the entire package to get a blank check of approval, as it has to deliver on the goods. For the most part, it does, from Mottola's direction (various moments are terrific, but some of the simplest -- such as a watching the fireworks scene -- are pure magic) to his dialogue (more realistic than, say, that of "Juno" but still snarky and smart enough to stand out) and the work from his cast.

Jesse Eisenberg (so good in "The Squid and the Whale") again delivers a subdued comedic performance tinged with pathos and quiet desperation and disappointment as our protagonist who finds himself stuck working one of the carny games at the title amusement park. Things look up, however, when his eyes fall upon Em Lewin, terrifically played by Kristen Stewart.

Having wallowed in the vampire pabulum that was "Twilight," she returns to (obviously) more realistic material here, and while she's done this sort of work before, she's so good at it that, coupled with her unconventional beauty, you simply can't take your eyes off her. The fact that she's far more of a damaged soul than James -- what with having an affair with the married maintenance man decently played by Ryan Reynolds, and not getting along in the slightest with her stepmom -- only adds to the allure of her character.

The budding romance between the lead characters is sweet, awkward and perfectly dredges up memories of those delirious yet awful or at least painful excursions into young love many of us experienced long ago. Throw in all sorts of comedic moments -- stemming from supporting characters played by Martin Starr, Matt Bush and Bill Hader among others -- another tempting beauty (Margerita Leieva nailing the sexy and flirty tart persona so well she must have studied one of my coworkers way back when), serious post-graduation angst, worries, uncertainty and even bits of existentialism, and the result is an engaging, charming and fairly entertaining ride.

While perhaps not for everyone (it gets its R rating for good reason), those of us who'd rather mostly forget but nevertheless want to hold onto some memories of an array of dead-end summer jobs will likely find this film right on target. "Adventureland" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.




Reviewed March 11, 2009 / Posted April 3, 2009


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