Ambition and youthful dreams collide - like carnival bumper cars - with the harsh reality of earning a living in the new comedy "Adventureland."
Writer-director Greg Mottola ("Superbad," "The Daytrippers") takes viewers on a minimum-wage roller-coaster ride in this semi-autobiographical tale of summer jobs, love and the loss of innocence.
Set in the halcyon days of 1987, the story opens with recent college graduate James (Jesse Eisenberg) learning that his family can no longer afford to help send him on a long-planned European trip. It's a nod to the perils of Reaganomics that feels all too right-at-home in a contemporary 21st-century economic-crisis flick.
To add insult to injury, James must also get a summer job. So instead of exploring the intellectual tourist spots of the Old World, the academic achiever finds himself working in the Midway games of the local amusement park. As the film's title suggests, James' summer still holds adventures for him, but not necessarily the kind he has dreamt about.
Mottola's best-known previous effort was directing the Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg-penned "Superbad." While that film rolled out loads of raunchy humor with a pinch of sweetness and heart, "Adventureland" switches the ratio. While not achieving the low-brow hilarity of "Superbad," Mottola's direction of his own story is full of heart with accenting sprinkles of classic summer-teen-comedy off-color humor.
James is a wide-eyed innocent, even after four years of higher education. He is a virgin, both literally and socially. Dropped into the personality petri dish of the park's staff, he stumbles through his first real "grown-up" experiences acting on the varied advice of his co-workers.
Jaded Joel (Martin Starr) offers weary cynicism and pragmatic work tips. Older and romantically experienced Mike (Ryan Reynolds) offers advice on confidence with the ladies. Park owners Bobby and Paulette ("Saturday Night Live" comics Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig) dole out morsels of customer-service zen.
There is, of course, a romance involved. James sets his sights on enigmatic-but-friendly tomboy Em (Kristen Stewart of "Twilight"), who seems to be brooding over secrets of her own.
Amidst the social drama and personality clashes, Mottola throws in a subplot of pot humor and plants the setting firmly in the late 1980s with nods to big-haired fashions and a soundtrack that speaks to the alternative tunes of the time (vintage good taste over nostalgia).
Armed with good intentions, a somber 1980s mixtape and a spectrum of well-meaning - if not fully comprehended - advice, James forges ahead. His college education might not have prepared him for the "real world," but a summer of unexpected experiences might kick-start a life-long adventure.
Rating: 3 1/2 (out of 5)
© 2009, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!