Joel: Well, we are working the jobs of pathetic, lazy morons.
Step right up! Step right up! Toss the ring on to the milk bottle and win a giant panda for your sweetheart! Ring toss not your game? Throw a ball and knock the hat off the dummy then. Win yourself a stuffed banana with googley eyes! But if you’re really looking for high stakes risks, try this game on for size. Go to college; make plans for the summer between your graduation and start of graduate school; watch it all fall apart at the last second; and then get yourself a job running games at the dilapidated amusement park you used to frequent when you were a kid. See if you’re smiling at the end of that one. This game is just as impossible to win and the prizes are nearly just as lame. Yes, there is plenty of supposed adventure to be had inside the safe confines of “Adventureland”, the name of both the aforementioned amusement park and the new movie by Greg Mottola, but the real adventure is waiting outside the supposed greatest place on earth. You just don’t know it yet.
The premise just vaguely described is actually the plight of one James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg). Being a young man and therefore inevitably naïve, he thought he had everything figured out. He was ready for a summer trek through Europe. He was ready to get an apartment in New York City and attend grad school in the fall. He was ready for everything except for the unpredictability of life. “Adventureland” may take place in 1987 but not much has changed as far as lofty ambitions being crushed by the harshness of real life goes. And this is the lesson that James must learn in what is described as one of those summers where it seems like nothing significant really happens but yet in hindsight ends up being momentously character building. For the viewer though, there really isn’t that much happening in this slice of life picture. The kids go to work, they smoke a lot of drugs and they hang out at lame yet popular local spots. Fortunately, love is in the air to make everything go that much faster.
Eisenberg and his young love interest, Em Lewin (Kristen Stewart) are two talented and compelling young actors. It is their presence that carries “Adventureland” from mildly bland mediocrity to slightly elevated decency. I realize that this is hardly a compliment but “Adventureland” is often extremely unadventurous. Still, this lack of activity is precisely what gives the film its meaning. James and Em have put their lives on hold as though they believe that have no other choice. Their lives are just another amusement park game that is rigged and cannot be won under any circumstances but yet they keep playing because they cannot see that there are other games, other parks, other lives just waiting for them to pursue. Their childish profession only further exaggerates their halted development but their introduction to each other’s lives shows them both possibilities they had never imagined. James is a sensitive guy who never gets the girl and Em doesn’t believe she deserves a guy like James. Yet here they both are, enjoying each other. How did this happen and what else is waiting?
Mottola, who struck it big Hollywood styles last time out with “Superbad”, took a decidedly much quieter approach with his follow up and comparisons would be entirely unfair. Like the summer that changed everything but only did so in retrospect, “Adventureland” is an adventure that is only fully appreciated when you realize just how much of its tone and themes have stayed with you long after the park has shut down for the night. After all, the real adventure of life only comes once you stop trying to delay it with excuses and obligations and take the themes out of the park.
Review by Joseph Bélanger