Director    Greg Mottola
Starring    Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds, Bill Hader, Kristin Wiig, Martin Starr
Release    3 APR (US) 11 SEP (UK)    Certificate 15
4 stars


13th September 2009

Chances are, you had a crap job when you were younger. One where you resented every second you had to stack a shelf or greet a customer, but one where you had good friends, bad relationships and as many laughs as you had woes. Looking back now, it probably seems like a wonderfully complicated time. Welcome to Adventureland.

Set in the summer of 1987, awkward and geeky James (Eisenberg) is forced to get a summer job to help pay for his rent when he goes to grad school in the autumn. After applying to various places without any luck, he begrudgingly gets a job at Adventureland, a seasonal fairground staffed by misfits.

It is here that James meets and befriends Em (Kristen Stewart), a troubled cynical girl with whom he eventually falls in love. While James' popularity among his colleagues grows (thanks mainly to a bag of weed his friend gave him) so too does his tentative relationship with Em.

[gallery]Little does James know, however, that Em is also sleeping with married man Mike Connell (Reynolds), the carnival's handyman and general cool, guitar-playing lothario. As James discovers love and friendship, which leads to both joy and heartbreak, the film's many ups and downs resemble the rollercoaster rides often seen rolling past in the background. Adventureland indeed.

While James is a clear stand-in for writer-director Greg 'Superbad' Mottola's younger self in what is obviously a very personal story, the magic lies in the fact that everyone can relate to the first-time experiences of his character.

Jesse Eisenberg excels in the role of sensible adolescent who is socially out of his depth (a role he has been honing ever since the excellent Roger Dodger), perfectly portraying the idealistic James with keen intelligence.

By contrast, Kristen Stewart plays Em as awkward and cautious, as though for all her worldly experience, she is a deeply broken girl, hurt most by her father's decision to remarry so soon after the death of her mother.

It is, however, a very similar character to her Bella in Twilight, a role she filmed after this. Although, here, she swaps clumsiness for distrust, and romantic hyperbole for cuss words, it is still the same Stewart that nervously tugs on her hair and awkwardly hides her eyes.

While the two leads provide the drama and heart of the film, big laughs come from the ensemble supporting cast. SNL regulars Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig provide the more outrageous moments in their usual off-the-cuff manner, acting almost like parent figures to the younger cast who hold their own in the comedy stakes too, creating a range of instantly likeable geeks and social retards.

From childhood friend Frigo's immature pranks and crude outbursts to Adventureland's 'hottie' Lisa P performing a crazy-funny '80s dance routine in a club, there are brilliantly funny moments at every turn, which helps to pace the more bittersweet moments so that they have greater impact.

Special mention also goes to Ryan Reynolds as Connell, an affable bastard that never seems one-dimensional in his behaviour as a clear arsehole. While he becomes James' confidant and subtly creates ripples between the budding lovers, Reynolds still has the charm and style to never appear too cocky.

What the film does refreshingly well is hint at further underlying issues without addressing them. Em's relationship with her stepmother, James' dad's increasing alcoholism - there is more beneath the surface than what we are shown, and this helps us to feel as though we really are just glimpsing one summer in these wonderful characters' lives.

The '80s setting is a blessing too, helping to further enhance the feeling of nostalgia without feeling gimmicky. We don't have Soft Cell or bad Flock-of-Seagulls hair thrown in our faces, here - the period isn't part of the joke, it just provides context with the appearance of arcades and dated clothing.

The film is a throwback to the autobiographical culture slices of films like Almost Famous and Dazed And Confused. Though not a 'coming-of-age' tale as such, it depicts a life-changing summer, one to which the viewer will then transfer their own experiences and leave the movie reminiscing of house parties and first crushes.

It's a story of love, friendship, pot, virginity and dodgems, and while you won't walk away from the film feeling like you've won a big-ass stuffed panda from one of the many fairground games, the feeling of warm and fuzzy nostalgia it bestows still seems like a prize nonetheless.

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