- The Washington Times - Friday, April 3, 2009

“Adventureland” is set in the halcyon days of 1987. Take away the teased bangs, the animal-print pants and the now-extinct cars, though, and this charming coming-of-age comedy could be taking place at any time. In fact, the plot is set in motion by something that seems more relevant now than then — downsizing.

James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) has just graduated college and is looking forward to a summer bumming around Europe before he starts grad school at Columbia. Those dreams are shattered when his parents (Jack Gilpin and Wendie Malick) explain that his father has been demoted and won’t be able to pay for his trip — or his rent in New York City next year.

The nerdy grad is forced to stay with his parents in Pittsburgh and find his first real job. Through an old friend — the vulgar and embarrassing Frigo (Matt Bush) — the desperate James finds a job at the local amusement park, Adventureland. He’s stuck hawking the fixed games while the cool crowd takes care of the rides. He quickly makes friends, though — the existentially troubled Russian lit major Joel (Martin Starr) and the cool, cute and careless Em (Kristen Stewart).

James strikes up a tentative romance with Em, not realizing she’s having an affair with Adventureland’s alpha male, Connell (Ryan Reynolds), a married maintenance man. Her ambivalence about her budding relationship with James just might drive him into the arms of the park hottie, Lisa P (Margarita Levieva).

This is one of those summers in which a boy becomes a man by learning some hard truths about life.

You’ve probably seen this type of movie before. In fact, you can just about predict everything that will happen in “Adventureland.” James complains about leaving college a virgin in the first scene, so you know he’ll lose that virginity by the end of the film.

The 1987 setting might be appealing, but it feels grafted on. Besides the fact that James is (hilariously) tormented by hearing “Rock Me Amadeus” over and over again throughout the summer, much of the music could be played any time: James’ idol is Lou Reed, and the soundtrack is 1970s-heavy.

What makes “Adventureland” worth watching is that it’s very funny but interspersed with a seriousness that gives the comedy some depth. “Saturday Night Live” alums Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig provide a lot of the laughs as the married couple who run the park.

The life lessons, on the other hand, go beyond the usual “Love hurts.” One of the best moments comes when head and humor are combined. Joel has a passionate make-out session with a fellow employee but gets the cold shoulder the next day because of his ethnic background. Em is livid, but as Joel points out, “Worst things have happened to the Jews.”

Mr. Eisenberg, best known for “The Squid and the Whale,” plays a similar underdog here. He’s immensely sympathetic. Miss Stewart, the star of fall’s megahit “Twilight,” steals the show, though. She wears next to no makeup throughout the film, but she doesn’t need it to keep viewers’ eyes always on her. She’s not just charismatic; she wears her talent with ease.

“Adventureland” is written and directed by Greg Mottola, the director of the raunchy bromance “Superbad,” but with this film, he has given us something more personal and, at the same time, more universal.

★★★

TITLE: “Adventureland”

RATING: R (Language, drug use and sexual references)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Greg Mottola

RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes

WEB SITE: adventurelandthefilm.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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