On DVD: Adventureland

The first thing to know about “Adventureland” is that although it was directed and written by Greg Mottola (“Superbad”) and it has Bill Hader in it, it is in know way in the mainstream vein of Judd Apatow-brand comedies. It’s not outrageously dirty or over-the-top hysterical ever. It prides itself on humor through character and the natural awkwardness of life. Taking place at a theme park in Pittsburgh in the 80s, it’s a modern-spirited but definite period comedy.

Period comedies seem to always revolve around coming-of-age stories. There seems to be a natural connection between the nostalgia of an era and reflecting on personal choices and the pivotal moments of growing up. “Adventureland” is an 80s period comedy, but it’s not necessarily a coming-of-age story. The protagonist is James (Jesse Eisenberg), a recent college grad, who while inexperienced in the ways of romance, at least knows who he is and what he wants from life in the long term. He’s not growing up, but he’s facing some harsh realities after his dad gets demoted and he can no longer afford that summer trip of a lifetime to Europe with his best friend.

His only option is a summer job working at Adventureland, where he meets his colorful and strange employers (Saturday Night Live’s Hader and Kristen Wiig), a new dork friend named Joel (Martin Starr, who has played minor roles in bigger comedies) and of course the laid back but emotionally distressed girl of his dreams (“Twilight” phenom Kristen Stewart). So what looks like a bum summer turns into a chance for James, a nerdy, awkward virgin, to reevaluate things.

Mottola clearly was meant to direct this kind of a film. “Superbad” was a springboard for him to make something a bit more natural. “Adventureland” doesn’t complete veer around summer romance clichés, but it has a distinctly more natural, less contrived sense of humor than “Superbad.” It never resorts to male genital jokes, for one. Eisenberg and Stewart give very identifiable performances. They’re scarily real rather than overly cliché. It’s a bit tough to believe that a college graduate could be so stupid about handling girls, but his charm wins you over. A lot like Michael Cera of “Superbad,” Eisenberg will either win you over or irritate you. Stewart was a phenomenal choice for Emily, whose family troubles have pushed her into a romance with a married man (Ryan Reynolds). She just has the look and plays the part of a naturally beautiful girl who really wrestles with who she is. Her character is probably written best in what is in general an awesome script.

Like other period comedies, “Adventureland” celebrates music and house parties and relishes in amusing outfit choices. Having been so bogged down with modern young adult comedy, “Adventureland” is really the first film since “Dazed and Confused” in the 90s to go back in time. Since the 80s are back in style again in many ways, the ‘historical’ element makes it kind of refreshing and unique despite some stylistic choices both directorially and comically that are clearly reminiscent of today’s movies.

This is a surprisingly good movie if you don’t expect “Superbad 2.” It’s much more real and even has a bigger heart. It’s about being at a crossroads and trying to make the most of a situation while figuring out exactly where you’re going. In hard times like today, it’s a way of looking forward positively by enjoying a re-imagining of the past.

4.5/5 Stars

Directed by: Greg Mottola
Written by: Greg Mottola
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig


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