James: Junior year I was dating this girl, Betsy Cooke. Betsy was kind of like… she was kind of a prude, actually. Anyway, one day I was reading Shakespeare, and I realized I don’t really love this person. You know? It was one of the sonnets, “being your slave, what should I do but tend upon the hours and times of your desires?” And I realized I don’t want to tend to Betsy’s hours or her times. Alright, that doesn’t matter. Anyway, I drove to Betsy’s house and I was literally about to tell her and that’s the night she said she wanted to have sex. Can you believe it? It was the same night.
Adventureland was billed as a wacky, raunchy comedy. Bill Hader’s role as a theme park owner dominates the preview, as do the broadest elements of the screenplay — a puke joke, a boner joke.
But this movie’s allegiance is more towards John Hughes than to Judd Apatow. It’s warm and sad and full of young longing. It depicts a slow, hazy summer that eventually comes off the rails, but not before everyone learn a lot about each other and smoke a fair bit of pot.
Jesse Eisenberg — fantastic as always — stars as James, a recent college graduate whose summer plans to go to Europe derail. He plans to join his rich friend in New York in the fall but in the meantime needs to bide the summer away with his parents.
He gets a job at the theme park Adventureland, where he quickly lands friends, in part because he’s smart and friendly, and in part because his rich friend left him a stash of marijuana. He bonds with coworkers Joel (Martin Starr), the quiet Em (Kristen Stewart), and even the older mechanic Connell (Ryan Reynolds).
Before long, he’s absorbed into the group, goofing off and going to parties. He helps Joel hook up with red-headed Sue (Paige Howard) as he grows closer and closer to Em. But everything is shaken up when the widely-coveted Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva) takes a shining to James.
Before long, tension brews and secret relationships come to light, and James finds himself without a girlfriend or a job or any of his summer savings. Em moves away to New York, James is stuck at home — maybe indefinitely, as his friend returns from Europe no longer planning on going to school in the fall.
At the end of the movie, James hops onto a bus to New York, soaking up the sights and lights, washing an alternately great and shitty summer off of him as he waits in the rain outside of Em’s apartment.
What makes Adventureland work is its tone, and the chemistry between its leads. A bunch of scenes are just people hanging out, James getting to know them (as the viewers do). There’s a nostalgic, romantic feeling of youth slipping away as James and Em realize they don’t want to be alone when that happens.
The soundtrack, packed with ‘70s and ‘80s pop and rock and alternative, is a delight, and contributes to the longing tone. The movie pauses to let its characters make out over “Pale Blue Eyes” or watch fireworks to “Don’t Dream It’s Over.”
One noteworthy achievement of Adeventureland is to make the sullen, stammering Kristen Stewart turn into a babe and competent actress. She doesn’t have all that much to do except look conflicted and play off Jesse Eisenberg, but she does these so well, so earnestly, that she feels real.
There are a handful of minor complaints I’d make: Parts of the ending rush by so that Em’s departure doesn’t have quite the impact it should. The anti-semitism side plot centered around Joel is undercooked. I also think, enjoyable as he is, Bill Hader sticks out like a sore thumb as more broad than any of the other actors or parts.
But for every trouble, the movie has several nice touches and moments, and I’ll happily list a few of them here: I love how Connell, secretly sleeping with Em, eggs on James’s crush — as if the whole thing is a game or a ticking time bomb he can’t wait to blow up. The “Lisa P is back” scene is so good and representative of the film that the marketers used it in its entirety as a trailer. I love how the shirts that Em (“Games Games Games”) and Lisa P (“Rides Rides Rides”) contrast their personalities. Mostly, I just love how the movie captures the chemsitry of James and Em — the way their conversations flow, and they seem to know what the other is thinking. So good.
So much about this movie is so great. It’s got such warm feeling and a vibrant script. It takes time to let us enjoy what our characters enjoy without ever meandering too long. And it just has that lived-in, authentic feeling that sucks you in; you feel like you’re joining these characters in their hazy, cooped up summer. It’s simply one of my favorites, and one I enjoy more each time I watch it.