What do giant stuffed pandas, pot cookies, bad hair and college burnouts have in common? They are just a few of the quirky characters featured in one of the most genuinely charming comedies of the year.
“Adventureland” may seem like just another romantic coming-of-age story — or the type of genre that’s been told and exhausted an unbearable number of times — but the talented cast of mostly unknowns and the cleverly sweet humor each character brings to the screen makes this movie charming, honest and genuine — offering audiences a refreshing perspective on bad summer jobs which can bring with it some of the greatest memories.
Set in the summer of 1987, where catchy one-hit wonders and neon digs were bangin’, “Adventureland” centers around a recent college grad who is regretfully forced to sacrifice his dream of traveling through Europe and live at home with his parents to raise money for grad school. What James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg, “The Squid and the Whale”) doesn’t realize, is college graduates with little experience in the summer job market don’t have many options when it comes to making any kind of money. Enter Adventureland amusement park, where you’re guaranteed “a fun-tastic time!” What James believes will be a summer of cleaning up puke and drowning in his own self-pity surprisingly turns into a roller-coaster ride of young love, new friendships and quirky adventures with some pretty eccentric characters.
Kristen Stewart (“Twilight”) plays Brennan’s love interest Em, a troubled NYU student who uses her gig at Adventureland as an excuse to get away from her hag of a stepmother, smoke a lot of pot and try to escape her problems. While Stewart has brought intensity to previous roles in indie flicks such as “Into the Wild” and “In the Land of Women,” she has never been so lovably convincing as the troubled girl she plays in “Adventureland.” The subtle charm and energy Stewart brings to her lost character is so inviting that it’s hard not to want to work the ring-toss table alongside her.
The mama and papa bears of the park, owners Bill Hader (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) and Kristen Wiig (“Saturday Night Live”) bring such strong, yet subtle comedic genius to their small roles that they leave the audience wanting more. Their 30-second stints, whether contemplating the edibility of corn dogs left out in the sun two days or yelling at “litterbugs” who refuse to place their trash in the garbage can are simply adorable — but in all honesty, who has ever underestimated the brilliance of these two comedic rock-stars?
Among other equally endearing “Adventureland” employees is the nut-sack-punching Frigo (Matt Bush), bubble gum chewing vixen Lisa P (Margarita Levieva), pipe-smoking nerd Joel (Martin Starr) and the wannabe-Don Juan Mike Connel (Ryan Reynolds) — who each shine and power through the film with their own quirks and charms. Despite their enormous differences, it is delightful to watch these multiple personalities come together and help each other fight through the angst-ridden summer while having an absolute blast. In a movie with such a simple premise as working a summer job at a crappy amusement park, it is these characters that bring the heart and soul to the movie — and boy do they bring it.
Finally, while the movie brings an energizing new approach to romantic comedies, it is hilarious in a manner that doesn’t need nudity or common gross-out tricks to leave their audiences chuckling. “Adventureland” goes beyond this kind of immature slapstick humor we see so frequently. Certain characters in the film bring such depth and sincerity with their storylines; it’s refreshing to be able to dive deeper into the lives and hardships of these young characters. Stewart’s misguided character in particular, delivers a realistic performance that most will be able to relate to as she tries to hide the grief she feels over her mother’s death with alcohol, drugs and unhealthy sexual relationships — only to fall in love with the one person she can’t hide her problems from.
Along with a rocking soundtrack sure to impress any ’80s fan, “Adventureland” delivers heart, sincerity and sweetness that audiences are in dire need of today. Without much publicity among other films with big name stars like Julia Roberts (“Duplicity”), Nicholas Cage (“Knowing”) and Paul Rudd (“I Love You, Man”), it is easy to overlook this film and forget about what it has to offer. However, “Adventureland”goes beyond big name stars and special effects — it offers real characters that deliver laughs and smiles that leave you feeling satisfied once the park closes for the summer. So grab your friends and your neon spandex and check out “Adventureland” for a fresh new take on young love and crappy summer jobs — just don’t eat the corndogs.
5 stars out of 5.