Our multiplexes need another period coming-of-age flick about as much as the nation needs another banking industry bailout, yet Adventureland proves to be a nice surprise. For that, thank the efforts of a talented ensemble and a screenplay that mostly steers clear of the usual gross-out gags that have come to define this sub-genre in modern times.
Jesse Eisenberg, who appears to be a Michael Cera wannabe until you remember that he's been around as long as the Juno actor (and more prominently in the early years, thanks to key roles in Roger Dodger and The Squid and the Whale), stars as James, whose best-laid plans to attend grad school are dismantled by a sudden lack of funds. Bummed, he's forced to take a minimum-wage job working the game booths at the Pittsburgh amusement park Adventureland. He spends an exorbitant amount of time smoking pot and goofing around with his co-workers, but what really makes the gig endurable is his burgeoning relationship with a fellow employee, the pretty if often moody Em (Twilight's Kristen Stewart). What James doesn't know, however, is that Em is involved with the park's older, married handyman (Ryan Reynolds), a situation that becomes difficult to manage once James and Em start spending more time together.
Adventureland was written and directed by Superbad's Greg Mottola, and he frequently has trouble nailing the 1980s milieu in which the film is set: Some scenes are visually so nondescript that it's easy to forget the time frame and assume the movie takes place in the here and now. Other bits hammer the '80s connection home in marvelous fashion -- especially amusing is the fact that Falco's "Rock Me Amadeus" blares from the park sound system on a continuous loop, much to the increasing irritation of James and his friends.
Eisenberg is exemplary as the nerdy intellectual whose sensitivity and demeanor attract rather than repel women -- here's that rare youth flick where it's actually believable that the geek gets the girl -- while Stewart again demonstrates her standing as one of our most promising young actresses by ably tackling the script's most complicated role. The supporting parts are also well-cast, offering familiar character types (flirtatious party girl, vulgar comedian, etc.) yet investing them with enough personality to offset any sense of deja vu.
As for Adventureland itself, it's presented as a second-rate amusement park, certainly not anybody's idea of a choice spot for a first date. The same, however, cannot be said of the movie, an inviting entertainment that's clearly worth the admission price.