‘Adventureland’ on DVD could be more adventurous

Being a longtime fan of coming-of-age flicks, I wanted to like Adventureland, and to some degree I did. Though no knee-slapper of a comedy, the movie has its moments, and its young-love yarn is right up my hopeless-romantic alley.

Only trouble is, that alley is littered with the leftovers of too many better movies before it.  I mean, when your plot is “boy meets girl, boy loses girl (for no good reason other than what should have been momentary misunderstanding), boy gets girl back. etc.”, how cliched can you get?

Shamelessly pandering to youths by presenting all adults as abject losers, Adventureland decries a hollow, soulless surrender to life’s compromises. Yet creatively it throws up just as much of a white flag, leaning on lame narrative conventions and predictable windups.

Beyond such inevitability, though, lurk some fun supporting performances and a strong song score, sparked by the film’s 1987 time frame.

Again typecast as an earnest virgin, Jesse Eisenberg plays James, writer-director Greg Motolla’s on-college’s-cusp hero who spends his pre-freshman summer in a thankless job at a dead-end Pittsburgh amusement park where, naturally, he meets the girl of his dreams.

She’s Em (Kristen Stewart), who’s also secretly involved with an older park worker (Ryan Reynolds), an alleged one-time music legend who fixes the dumpy rides when he’s not cheating on his wife with young things at the park.

Rocky romance ensues, peppered by the kind of mindless belligerence and borderline ugly violence which kept Dazed and Confused from being more fun.

Also akin to Rick Linklater’s ’70s -style coming-of-ager is Reynolds’ aging and slyly predatory makeout king. He’s Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused, but without the roguish charm. He’s also Paul Le Mat in American Graffiti, but without the inner despair. In short, he’s not only cliched as a character, but not nearly as interesting.

With his dry, understated, Michael Cera-style delivery, Eisenberg at least has an easy-going, soft-spoken naturalism going for him. But sometimes you wish he’d act–or act out–a bit more. His James reacts about the same whether he’s insulted by a customer, enticed by a babe or nailed in the nads.

As his troubled conquest, Stewart has the opposite problem, with an affected, studied style that shows no discernible dramatic chops. Maybe she should stick to vampire movies.

Bill Hader has some fine fun with his role as the low-rent not-so-fun park’s boss, and the Lou Reed songs lend a fine soulful undercurrent. But much of the music feels early MTV–i.e., early ’80s–and not 1987.

Earnest young men looking to lose their virginity–but in the right way–have drawn me to moves since The Graduate, and Adventureland is no different. I just wish the film itself had offered more difference as it railed against conformity and the older generation’s selling out, when the true conformity is in its own script.


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