Director: Greg Mottola Release Date: 11/09/09 Link: IMDB Review by John Hunter When the opening few minutes offer no respite from sensitive graduate James (Eisenberg) being dumped by his recent girlfriend, finding out his parents can no longer afford his planned jaunt across Europe or send him to the New York grad school he’d been building his life towards, you soon realise that the poster bellowing ‘from the director of Superbad’ may have been leading you up the wrong path. This is not Superbad 2. But that’s no bad thing. As James quickly finds his excellent academic record useless when trying to find a much-needed summer job, you find yourself sympathising with a character. He’s done everything right, it’s the world around him that’s let him down. Forced to seek minimum wage in Pittsburgh’s crappiest fairground – the titular Adventureland - the scene is set for what might be James’ last summer of fun before adulthood well and truly has him. Here, among the other directionless or clueless employees, James meets the complex but aloof Em (Kristen Stewart) – a girl reeling at her father remarrying too soon after her mother’s death but who also has her own ill-judged relationship on the go with married park maintenance man Connell (Ryan Reynolds). Not a set-up that has comedy smash written all over it. But while several reviews have justly compared Adventureland to TV dramedy Freaks and Geeks, it also shares a lot in common with Lost in Translation. Not only do both films feature two lost souls amid the noise and bright colour of an environment they’d ideally not be stuck in, but also the same dreamy sense of time passing. And it’s here that, like Lost in Translation, the film also finds its humour in the little things that keep us going when we’d really rather be somewhere else. Where even Superbad stooped to using menstrual blood as a gross-out comedy set piece, Adventureland instead uses the over-achievement or under-achievement of its characters as the source of its comedy. There’s an awkwardness and displacement that makes most laughs feel organic. You are definitely laughing with the characters rather than at them and it’s that warmth that gives this film its heart. In fact where Adventureland goes awry is when it strays from its established, endearing tone. The casting of Superbad cop and Saturday Night Live alumni Bill Hader as the park’s officious but friendly manager (complete with short-shorts and comedy moustache) threatens to veer the film of course. Every scene Hader is in is very funny. But that’s all it is and this causes the drama to stall every ten minutes or so whenever Hader appears and leaves the effect of wishing Hader’s role either served a purpose or, more specifically, that he actually had a film of his own as well which you could watch straight afterwards. But for the most part, the winning combination of character and casting is what carries you through the film. While the teen leads have all clearly trained at the Michael Cera school of awkward but earnest mumbling, Eisenberg is a likeable and identifiable lead as James and, likewise, Kristen Stewart – fresh off the success of some film called Twilight – gives just the right amount of adorable amid her damage as Em. Even in a smaller role, Ryan Reynolds puts his natural charm to good use as the adulterous handyman who has allegedly jammed with Lou Reed. While Reynolds’ role is definitely a source of antagonism for James, at no point does the script actually paint him as the villain. Here lesser films would have built up to a predictable showdown between the two rivals for Em’s affection. But it’s clear to the audience, to James and to Connell himself that the two combatants are not even in the same league. The film’s avoidance of the obvious is also an unexpected delight. James doesn’t need to learn to correct some fatal flaw in his character or the world around him – he just needs to learn how to live with it. In fact one sub-plot involving the much-ogled park attendant babe Lisa P could easily have led to a very lazy rom-com ‘one mistake that ruins everything’. But the script cleverly reverses this scenario, making James’ the one who has to find forgiveness rather than needing to be forgiven. This film can’t be reviewed without mentioning the soundtrack that cannily evokes and creates the story’s late-eighties setting. While naffer tracks like Rock Me, Amadeus are played on a loop in the amusement park – much to the torture of the employees, tracks like The Cure’s Just Like Heaven or Hüsker Dü Don’t You Want To Know If You Are Lonely not only set the tone for the emotion on screen but are also integral parts of the story as the characters bond over their personal favorites and discover new artists from one another. From song choices to writer-director Greg Mottola having worked his way through college at a fairground himself, it’s clear that the director has made a very personal and auto-biographical film. But while the story could be accused of self-indulgence and even wish-fulfilment on the film-maker’s part, it is the universal heart and general good nature that will make the audience want a happy ending just as much as the characters. So no, Adventureland isn’t as funny as Superbad but then it wouldn’t be as moving, moody or meaningful a film if it was. Rating: 7/10