“Adventureland” is a whimsical period film about a not-too-distant American time period, though one we can nonetheless express nostalgia for – the ’80s. Directed by Greg Mottola (“Superbad”), this one stars Jesse Eisenberg as a nerdy, post-college intellectual named James. He is accepted into Columbia for grad school, but his parents can’t afford to send him, so James reluctantly picks up a summer job in hopes of earning the cash himself. He starts working at the kitschy local theme park Adventureland, hoping to be placed in the “Rides” department. Instead, he gets assigned to “Games” and is forced to dole out tickets and narrate insipid faux-horse races.
“Adventureland” captures the lazy futility of being trapped in your hometown long after you’ve outgrown it, and the languor of working at a dead-end summer job, wherein you earn a measly paycheck for basically doing “the work of pathetic morons” (as James’ co-worker puts it). The job sucks, but spending time with your co-workers makes it bearable. James meets Joel (Martin Starr), sarcastic and brilliant; odd park managers Paulette and Bobby (the hilarious Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader); Connell the technician, a cool guy who turns out to be a tragic figure (Ryan Reynolds); and Em (Kristen Stewart), a pretty NYU student who’s kind and smart and quickly becomes the object of James’ affections.
Stewart and Eisenberg generate sweet, awkward chemistry together; both actors are fidgety and convey post-adolescence hemming and hawing with expert nuance. Now let’s get to the good part: Almost every single character smokes pot in “Adventureland.” They don’t exactly need their wits about them to work as carnies, so they often get high on the job. In one particularly glorious sequence, Em bakes “special” cookies and hands them out among her colleagues; James and his friends spend their evening shift smashing into each other inside bumper cars, laughing uproariously. It’s a beautiful, hazy collage of colored fair lights, the screams of kids riding rollercoasters and mindless ’80s hits echoing over the park loudspeakers. James doesn’t remain at Adventureland after the summer ends, of course – his gnawing ambition gets the best of him – but the experience is an enlightening one.
Anya Jaremko-GreenwoldDGO Staff Writer