James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) and Joel (Martin Starr) are employees of <em>Adventureland</em>.

Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, and Ryan Reynolds star in a film written and directed by Greg Mottola.

Adventureland appears to be a movie at war with its own marketing campaign. From the trailer-which features potty humor and vomiting, not to mention a painfully bad air drum solo-one is led to expect an adolescent gross-out populated by all your least favorite people from high school. The film itself, however, features witty dialogue, sympathetic characters, and a fantastic soundtrack featuring the Replacements, The Cure, and Velvet Underground.

James (Jesse Eisenberg) is a new college grad in 1987 with dreams of bumming around Europe before starting grad school. But his parents’ financial difficulties keep him home for the summer in Pittsburgh, where he finds his degree in comparative literature and Renaissance studies qualifies him for nothing but a minimum-wage gig at a third-rate amusement park. Between learning how to call mechanical horse races and evading the occasional murderous park visitor, the sweet, smart, and unfailingly honest James is drawn into the lives of his co-workers: Morosely brilliant Joel (Martin Starr) offers hilariously deadpan commentary on the workings of the park and life in general. Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds), the maintenance guy, is a guitarist idolized by all for allegedly once having jammed with Lou Reed. And of course, James falls for Em (Kristen Stewart), who’s still in college but has a lot more experience-with sex and with emotional pain-than our virginal leading man.

Writer/director Greg Mottola (Superbad) skillfully evokes both the period (Em wears H¼sker D¼ T-shirts and drives a Pacer) and the uncertainty of young adulthood; of trying to become your own person while still being dependent on your parents; of knowing all Shakespeare’s sonnets but still trying to figure out human nature. Even a character that could easily be a stock villain, like the philandering Connell, is invested with enough depth to rise above stereotypes. Refreshingly, Stewart is given plenty to do besides look beautiful: Em is perceptive, assertive, emotionally fragile, and even difficult sometimes, but as cool as she is, it’s easy to understand James’s attraction. Adventureland, after all, is about learning to forgive the fallibilities of others. Not bad for a summer job.


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