Having been a good boy in high school and college, nebbish James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg, "The Squid and the Whale") is totally psyched for European adventure abroad with his buddies "? a much-needed, much-earned, character-building experience to be had before he returns and moves to New York City for graduate school.
But when his dad's (Jack Gilpin, "21") job is downgraded, to the obvious dismay of Mrs. Brennan (Wendie Malick, "Confessions of a Shopaholic") and finances become tight, James' trip is nixed, and he is forced to find a summer job "? his first.
After a brief T-shirting ceremony from park directors Bobby and Paulette (Bill Hader and Kristin Wiig of "Saturday Night Live"), James lands a gig as a game operator at Adventureland, a rundown, 1970s-styled theme park and outcast employer.
There, James makes a friend in Joel, (Martin Starr, "Knocked Up"), a greasy, well-read fellow weirdo whose similarly disenchanted with his lot in life, and develops a crush on Emily (Kristen Stewart, "Twilight"), a super-brooding, too-cool cutie whose cynicism and jaded party-girl vibe enamors James.
There's lots of light comedy peppered throughout "Adventureland," the funniest of which is delivered by Hader and Wigg, and Eisenberg is sufficiently awkward and uncomfortable to illicit situational laughs in several scenes. He's like a more realistic Michael Cera "? not quite as cute and goofy, but Eisenberg has an appealing, dour quality that carries a credibility absent "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist."
Identity is what roots "Adventureland," and every character struggles to accept reality on his or her terms. There is palpable angst among young characters, which is almost always steeped in tensions that trickle from their relationships with older adults. In their new, less glamorous life, James' parents are suffering. The added pressure of less money for more work on top of non-discrete chiding from his wife, fuels his father's alcoholism and ensures that James never wants to come home.
Underneath its comedic veneer, "Adventureland" is a moody, depressing coming-of-age story. We see the most obvious toil and hurt in Emily, who at home, struggles with a wealthy, absent father (Josh Pais, "Synecdoche New York") and an image-conscious stepmom (Mary Birdsong, TV's "Reno 911!").
Struggling with her emotions, Emily has fostered an unhealthy affair with the park's maintenance man, Mike (Ryan Reynolds, "Definitely, Maybe"), who is much older and married. Their relationship "? an arrangement, really "? is generally relegated to slightly sickening physical sessions in his mom's basement and hook-ups when his wife is away and her parents are out of the house.
Joel is a tragic figure as well. A scene where he reluctantly avoids allowing a visiting James inside his family's trailer home is sad and revealing, putting context to his faux-pretentious nature and his social armor of obscure literary references and pipe-smoking.
Although the mood of "Adventureland" isn't expected, it's generally well-executed, if jarring. "Superbad" director Greg Mottola expertly handles characters that are well-written and believable, and he doesn't encourage any surreal plot situations to interrupt the story and dialogue.
If anything, "Adventureland" could be better served by playing down a few goofy scenes, and spending more time on ancillary characters like Joel, who set the tone and tension for the emotional story line."?Joe Wertz