A coming of age tale based loosely on the experiences of writer/director Greg Mottola, Adventureland is a surprisingly dense teen flick, yet its unfortunate forays into religion bashing undermines its overall effect.
Set in the summer of 1987 – a time of no mobile, computer console, or internet stimulation – Adventureland focuses on the plight of recently dumped high school graduate James (Jesse Eisenberg), a young man of keen intellect and stern morals, who holds a firm belief that sex must be attained through true love. Hence he is a virgin.
Eisenberg plays the role well, yet many claim that he is coppin’ the trip of perennial teen movie nice guy, Michael Cena. But really, what are they both but a retread of Dustin Hoffman’s The Graduate?
After his parents (Jake Gilpin and Wendy Malick) cash flow runs dry, the over qualified James is forced to take on a summer job at theme park Adventureland, in order to raise money for tuition at NYU. There he meets the desirable Kristen, played by a perfectly cast Kristen Stewart, whose spunky attitude and smouldering looks suits her role and the films 1980s backdrop well.
A romance develops, but is threatened by Kristen’s on the side relationship with married maintenance man and local rock god, Mike Cornell (a wonderfully restrained Ryan Reynolds).
Surprisingly low key and crude free, Adventureland leans itself more to the teen soap opera of John Hughes, than the immature, albeit entertaining, comedy of Superbad.
Since his own personal experience has been woven into the script, Mottola has written characters which have depth and a tinge of the realistic to them. Save for Bill Hader’s and Kristen Wiig’s theme park owners, Adventureland’s only two pure comedic personalities, who although entertaining, do not fit with the films other more grounded characters.
Yet a glaring flaw is found in its depiction of its pro-faith characters, which are written as either bigots, or hypocrites. Cause for celebration amongst the secular set, yet not even close to reality.
Catholic’s especially are given a hard time. First is an occurrence between potential lovebirds, nerdy Jewish agnostic Joel (Mike Starr), and good Catholic girl Sue (Paige Howard, other daughter of Ron), where the latter rejects the former due to his ethnic heritage. She is later branded as an anti-Semite, who probably supports apartheid and homophobia as well.
Next comes theme park hottie Lisa P. (Margarita Leviea), the resident cock tease who will not give it up that easily due to her Catholicism, even though she may be willing to give head, according to Cornell’s expertise on the matter. Perhaps Mottola’s revenge on a past crush?
It is frustrating and unfortunate that these moments occur, since Adventureland contains memorable performances which boosts its bittersweet nostalgia tale, and a maturity which not many of Mottola’s peers can match. A welcome throwback to teen dramas of old, yet its harsh judgement of the religious is glaring.