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Summer jobs and summer love: Rachel Winterbottom rates this nostalgic film about post-university blues

Written by . Published on September 16th 2009.


We’ve all had one of those jobs, the kind that resides in the backwaters of our CVs and might as well be a gap in our employment history. You haven’t been able to bring yourself to take it off your record just yet. Maybe because you don’t want to dismiss all that god-awful time you spent whittling away your soul, or maybe because that terrible summer job also happens to represent the best time of your life. Yeah, right.

Mottola has almost perfectly captured that strange, in-between period of life when you’re still under the influence of your parents and yet you’re expected to act like an adult.

James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) has just graduated with the class of 1987 and he’s just learned the most important lesson in his entire university career: Literature degrees mean diddlysquat. Reality greets James like a slap in the face when his plans of cavorting around Europe go up in smoke because his dad is demoted. In order to even afford his dreams of attending Journalism graduate school, he’s forced, shock horror, to get a summer job.

Based on the fact that it’s the only place that will accept him, James starts work at his local theme park in Pittsburgh – Adventureland. He’s put on Games, which in the Adventureland universe, ranks lowest of the low. Once his fellow park-workers realise that he has a supply of weed to last the summer, however, James soon goes up in their estimations and even resident park-hottie Lisa P wants a piece of him.

James has entered a world of rigged games and fellow misfits, where he learns important life lessons – like giant arsed pandas aren’t worth getting knifed over – and starts to come to terms with the real world. Things only start to look up when he meets Rides-girl Em Lewin. AKA, the girl of his dreams. The trouble is that Em is secretly sleeping with the park maintenance guy, despite the fact that he’s married.

With his pseudo-awkwardness and gawky-yet-good looks, Eisenberg plays the naive James with just the right mix of post-university smugness and wide-eyed innocence. Spouting Shakespearean chat-up lines, the character of James is so in love with himself and the idea of being in love that you’re glad when reality finally catches up with him. It’s up to Eisenberg to expertly guide you over the lumps and bumps of his character’s learning curve so you’re rooting for him every (miss)step of the way.

Love interest Em is played by Kristen Stewart of Twilight fame, the go-to gal for the role of disturbed teen. She does ‘damaged’ very well. Although Em is so similar to the socially inept Belle that you might expect James to get attacked by a jealous vampire.

Stewart’s acting style seems to be a combination of running her fingers through her hair and being so laid back she’s horizontal. “I’m buzzed,” she intones at one point, with all the enthusiasm of a self-service checkout. Still, not many young actresses could say a line like, “She once violated our cat Gypsy with a ballpoint pen,” with her perfect deadpan delivery.

Ryan Reynolds is unusually subdued as the park’s maintenance guy, Mike Connell, who gains kudos from his claim that he once jammed with Lou Reed. Connell might be the top dog at Adventureland, but in reality he’s just like the aimless teens that idolise him. Only older. Reynolds paints a sad, slightly sleaze-bally picture of what can happen if you stay still too long in life.

Following his gross-out, coming-of-age comedy Superbad, writer/director Greg Mottola has penned a film that taps right into that mythical eternal summer you wish you’d had. Ultimately, Adventureland is a symbol of the awkward transition into adulthood, standing like a gaudy limbo between the structured safety of youth and the real world. The Eighties setting is perfect for this. With mix tapes, Day-Glo colours and an open attitude to drinking and driving, nostalgia oozes from the screen in neon waves.

The thing about nostalgia, of course, is that it sugar-coats your memories. Lead character James may battle with a broken heart but ultimately his story is brighter than that of fellow park misfit, Joel (Martin Starr), who has an altogether rougher ride in Adventureland. Perhaps Mottola is too keen on keeping his film light-hearted.

It’s a bittersweet film about that time of your life that you’ll always remember, and that some of us never get. At times it’s gloriously un-PC (‘Naked push ups is retard for fucking!’), but mostly the humour’s gentle and offset by the drama of parental problems, which are always simmering darkly in the background.

Mottola has almost perfectly captured that strange, in-between period of life when you’re still under the influence of your parents and yet you’re expected to act like an adult. By the end, Adventureland stops being a fading attraction that’s seen better days and becomes a place of friendship, love and those times in life worth remembering. Gratifying stuff.


Adventureland (15) is on general release now

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