It’s the summer of 1987 and Ronald Reagan is slowly but surely destroying the economy of the United States of America. James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) is fresh college graduate whose summer plans, of bumming around Europe with his mates, fall apart when his father is unexpectedly demoted. This new economic reality forces James into getting a summer job so that he’ll be able to pay his rent for Columbia university in the autumn. Desperation leads him to take a job running games at a rather dishevelled amusement park. It is here that James encounters the pretty but emotionally confused Em (Kirsten Stewart) and befriends a rag-tag bunch of souls whose only goal is to escape the mediocrity as soon as possible.
This movie may be directed by Greg Mottola but Superbad 2 it is not. Neither is it some new farcical teenage comedy. It’s not even a comedy per-say although it does have some profoundly funny moments. Instead it’s an emotionally deep, very personal coming of age movie which centres on budding relationships, the dawn of adulthood and the burden of responsibility.
Jesse Eisenberg (The Squid and the Whale) plays the intellectual, semi-geeky but ultimately cool James to a tee. You can genuinely feel the love he has for Em and the hurt and remorse felt when things don’t go to plan. Plus his timing and delivery are exceptional. Kirsten Stewart is a revelation in this movie. The intense emotion and raw feelings she displays means that she becomes the gravitational centre of the entire enterprise. Her performance here is so far removed from Bella in Twilight as to render her almost unrecognisable. Ryan Reynolds too transcends his usual comic shtick performances, as the parks playboy handyman and mentor of James in the ways of the world. Martin Starr has a great turn as James’ bespectacled pal Joel, a nihilistic Slavic languages major whose idea of how to woo a lady is to give her a copy of Gogol’s ‘Dead Souls and then explain how the author starved himself after writing it. Newcomer Margarita Levieva is perfect as the self-obsessed, obvious hottie Lisa P, the park’s resident tease and gossip. While Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig provide the only true comedy moments as the slightly deranged Adventureland owners.
Greg Mottola’s script and direction is unobtrusive and allows the central characters room to live their characters lives on-screen. The soundtrack is incredible, made up almost entirely by great 80’s pop songs, and sets the tone perfectly. A particular highlight is a marijuana-fuelled bumper car session set to “Just Like Heaven” by The Cure. It’s not all positives though. Some characters, especially the parents, are clichéd cardboard cut-outs and the whole film has an unpolished, rough look to it.
Some people may have a problem with the movies lack of jokes, or find the whole thing a little schmaltzy. And while there are some knob jokes and drugs do play a central role, people who turn up to the cinema expecting the usual “Judd Apatow stable” fare will be sorely disappointed. That said, those who approach with an open mind, or are searching for the perfect date movie, will utterly enjoy this unique, wonderful and uncompromisingly tender film.