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Wednesday, April 1, 2009 08:29 am

Adventureland features roller coaster of love

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart in Adventureland.

For those of us who lived through the ’80s as teenagers, Greg Mottola’s Adventureland — a poignant, nostalgic look at that time — will prove irresistible. With its disco-inspired fashion, slacker attitude and eclectic soundtrack, it perfectly captures that decade’s sense of carefree optimism, as seen through the eyes of a group of young people about to enter adulthood. Mottola’s characters are so authentic that their experiences prove to be universal as they navigate through a summer of emotional confusion, dashed expectations and bad corndogs.

James’ (Jesse Eisenberg) summer is not getting off to a good start. Told that his trip to Europe and perhaps his attending NYU for graduate work are in jeopardy because of his father being laid off, he’s forced to take a job at Adventureland, a run-down theme park that’s one lawsuit away from closure. For a guy who’s majored in Renaissance studies, this is a death sentence. However, he finds a kindred soul in Joel (Martin Starr), a Russian lit expert and when he meets the beautiful, but elusive Em (Kristen Stewart), James starts to think maybe this job has something to offer after all. Adding to the intrigue of the park is Connell (Ryan Reynolds), a Mr. Fixit with a rock star rep and a thing for Em, and Lisa P (Margarita Levieva), a bombshell that all the men lust after but who, surprisingly, only has eyes for James.

While I enjoyed Mottola’s previous film, Superbad, this is a much more mature work. It realistically captures the yearning for something more that’s inherent in people this age. Confusion reigns in matters of the heart when you’re young and each decision, whether it be personal or professional, seems weighty and irreversible. Uncertainty and a lack of confidence undo each of these characters at one time or another and we can’t help but feel their pain, frustration and hope as it is so much our own. Credit the cast, which is solid across the board, and Mottola’s insightful script for capturing these emotions in a pitch perfect manner.

Don’t get me wrong, there are laughs aplenty and they help stitch together the various plots as well as underscore the human qualities of all the characters. But the strong suit here is the way Mottola is able to put us in his way back machine and so accurately capture those feelings of yearning, hope and fear you experience as you timidly test the waters of adulthood. Because of this, Adventureland ends up being a film that will speak to all ages, now and tomorrow, and is unquestionably the most pleasant cinematic surprise of 2009.

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