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Adventureland (2009)
Rated PG13

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, and Bill Hader

Rating:
***
out of
*****

Recent college grad James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) is about to go to Europe for the summer, but finds out that his parents can no longer afford to send him. James longs to go to Columbia for grad school but his parents' money troubles may make that impossible as well. James is forced to look for employment in his hometown of Pittsburgh. Being that he's never had a job before and no one else will hire him, James reluctantly accepts an offer from his best friend to work at Adventureland, a run-down local amusement park.

As he learns the ropes of working the various (and mostly rigged) games, he begins meeting the other park employees. There's the hopelessly nerdy Joel (Martin Starr), the too-cool mechanic Connell (Ryan Reynolds), and the dark and mysterious Em (Kristen Stewart). When Em saves James from losing his job over a stuffed animal, Em and James begin an awkward relationship. James has just come off an 11 day relationship and is a virgin. Em is more adventurous and is currently having an affair with the married Connell after the park closes for the night. James falls hard for Em but she's troubled by her past and doesn't know how to handle the affection of a "nice guy."

Taking place in 1987, Adventureland features many nods to the time period but never ventures into parody territory like The Wedding Singer, which felt the need to pack in as many 80s references as possible to poke fun at the excesses of the era. In Adventureland, the references are much more subtle. There are just enough to realize that the movie is not taking place today.

Writer/director Greg Mottola, who was responsible for 2007's Superbad, finds himself working in a much less Judd Apatow-inspired vein here. Although there is definitely a lot of sex-related dialogue, Adventureland has a much sweeter, almost wistful atmosphere. The material here is semi-autobiographical and it shows in the sensitivity shown to the characters.

Jesse Eisenberg's performance is surprisingly good. Initially, I was concerned he was playing the role as if directed to be as Michael Cera-like as possible. As the film progressed, however, the character and Eisenberg grew on me. Kristen Stewart, who is now a superstar because of Twilight, is fine as the melancholy Em. She fits the role perfectly. I don't know that she has much of a range outside of this type of character, however.

Adventureland was promoted as a laugh-out loud comedy from "the guy who brought you Superbad" but in reality its a much more thoughtful comedy with a healthy dose of dramatic qualities. If you're looking for a laugh-out loud comedy "from the guy who brought you Superbad", you'll probably get more out of watching Superbad a second time. Although it certainly isn't perfect, Adventureland is worth seeing without any preconceived notions about what to expect.

Trivia: Adventureland was filmed in Pittsburgh, PA. The amusement park in the movie is known as Kennywood Park. The rides shown in the movie are actual rides, although the names of the games have been changed. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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