“Adventureland” is a big slice of ’80s nostalgia pie served on a plate with no other embellishments. I bother to make this mouthwatering comparison because for someone like me who didn’t live in the era, the movie doesn’t quite hit home. Kudos to writer/director Greg Mottola for mastering the feel of the decade’s teen movies, but I felt like he packed it with ’80s inside jokes. To set the record straight, I don’t mind watching movies where all the jokes don’t register with me. I understand that only stoners can fully appreciate “Pineapple Express” and only musicians can feel likewise about “This Is Spinal Tap.” Yet the aforementioned movies hold out a welcoming hand and draw you into a world which perhaps you are not entirely cognizant. ”Adventureland,” on the other hand, scorns those who did not live in its time, making me feel like an unwelcome outsider.
The plot revolves around James (Jesse Eisenberg), a recent college graduate forced to take a summer job at the Adventureland amusement park due to some unexplained financial troubles. The cast of characters he has to deal with are a stark contrast from those he encountered at Oberlin, from the penny-pinching park owners (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, “SNL”) to the high-pitched squealer with a compulsion of punching between the legs. Life is pretty miserable for James until the beautiful Em (Kristen Stewart) saves him from being stabbed by a fed up customer. They slowly discover a deep affection for each other. But ultimately, they find out that they don’t really know what they want. Em has an affair with the married Adventureland janitor Connell (Ryan Reynolds); James goes out with chatterbox Lisa P. during a brief break in his relationship with Em. Their relationship is marked by vacillation, which would be refreshingly realistic if it didn’t get caught in a mire of clichés.
Just a rhetorical question: is it a recurring theme of 2009 comedies to have hilarious supporting characters that get no screen time? Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman in “Funny People,” as well as David Koechner in “Extract,” provided the best (in Koechner’s case, the only) laughs of their respective movies but were seen criminally little. The same goes for Hader and Wiig in “Adventureland,” who light up the screen with their zany characters during the limited time that we see them. Unfortunately, Mottola nails these characters and not any of the more prominent ones. James feels like a slightly less pathetic Michael Cera. Em is somewhat more realized, and Stewart does her best to flash her acting chops in the role. She gets the fact that Em is an enigmatic girl, yet Stewart’s transparent portrayal doesn’t do this side justice. The absolute worst is Ryan Reynolds’ Connell, a subplot so poorly written it hurts to watch. Ryan Reynolds seems to be having a dreadful time, constantly asking himself, “Why did I do this movie?” Mottola’s “Adventureland” is a styling love story of the ’80s, but his infatuation blinds him from creating anything that transcends the confines of his favorite decade and still holds meaning for those who didn’t live it. C- /