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I need to make two things very clear about Adventureland in this review. First, Adventureland is a great, coming of age dramedy with a strong cast and fine story telling. The second thing to note is that this is not the movie that is being promoted by the studio.

If you were to believe the trailers, the commercials, the theatre stand ups and just about any other promotional attempt for Adventureland, you would rest assured that this movie was a hilarious teen romp in the same vein as Superbad. It makes sense of course, being that Adventureland is directed by Superbad helmer, Greg Mottola. But I have seen Superbad, my friends, and Adventureland is no Superbad.

Misled by the current ad campaign, one might think Adventureland tells the story of a bunch of misfit teens working at a run-down theme park and getting into all sorts of wacky adventures. And it is… sort of. Except the “wacky adventures” these young adults get into are real and honest problems that face young people today -- even if it is set twenty years ago.

Set in the summer of 1987, the movie focuses on James Brennan (The perfectly awkward Jesse Eisenberg) as a fresh out of college kid who’s still kind of green around the ears. His grandiose plans for a European vacation go out the window, along with the income boost he was expecting for his graduation present, when his parents come under a financial hardship. Now required to join the work force with absolutely no job experience, the only place in town that will hire him is the local theme park named in the title.

Once at the park, James encounters all the different, quirky characters that operate and occupy Adventureland. Joel (Martin Starr) is the nerdy and helpful sidekick that shows James the ins and outs of the park. Bobby and Paulette (SNL’s Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig) are the patriarchal owners and operators and Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds) is the resident ladies man/mechanic. However the Adventureland employee that makes the biggest impression on James is Em, the quiet and independent girl who works the arcade (Twilight’s Kristen Stewart).

Adventureland has its share of Superbad moments. James’ nut punching, childhood friend Tommy Frigo (Matt Bush) brings a familiar annoyance to James’ life and Bobby and Paulette’s random wackiness are fun, but both feel out of place once the crux of the story gets moving.

As in Superbad, director Mottola gives us a very realistic approach to the young adult’s life in Adventureland, and the reality of this film is that a young person’s life isn’t always a raunchy sex comedy. It’s an honest approach as James learns from other awkward twenty somethings how not to be an awkward twenty something. And like any other solid coming of age flick, James learns about friendship, loyalty and love, all the while doing the worst job he could imagine. Sometimes life is like that. You find out some of the best times in your life may have started out as some of your worst.

Where Adventureland is strongest is in its young cast. Eisenberg is convincingly and painfully awkward and innocent as James. His inexperience is refreshing and we learn along with him as he navigates the social waters of his new found social playground. Stewart is great as the vulnerable and wounded Em, and she pulls it off well. She’s not the hottest girl in the park, but she’s the coolest for sure. Martin Starr channels a little bit of his “Bill” character from Freaks and Geeks, but still gives us a believable intellectual who’s socially pained. And then of course, there’s Ryan Reynolds, who’s mostly known for his comedy roles, but turns in a smart and careful performance here that is powerfully subtle.

With all these great performances from a great young cast, you get a great story of growing up, disappointment, fulfillment and heartbreak. Then you throw in Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig talking about corn dogs and googily eyes and you get Adventureland.

It’s almost as if there are two universes at work here in this film. There’s the real world that James and his problem exist in, and then there’s the comedic world where Bobby and Paulette exist and at times it can be a little distracting. Almost like how The Office’s Michael Scott’s world differs from his employees at Dunder Mifflin – one’s purpose is to create comedy and the others is ground the story in the real world.

Adventureland is a real movie and when it exists in the real world, it’s a nice piece of drama. When it tries to visit a farcical land of over the top comedy it sometimes derails. However, if the studio was smart, they’d start marketing Adventureland to the Twilight set, seeing as how this movie is more or less a love story with Kristen Stewart. And look how well the last love story with her in it did.

Lon Lopez

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