Having grown up in the eighties, I was really looking forward to the nostalgia promised by the trailers for Adventureland. In this respect, the previews didn’t lie. Everything regarding the time period feels right. The film doesn’t simply appear to be recreating the stereotypes of the decade, but genuinely feels as if it is from that time. However, the trailers also billed the film as a comedy, and in this respect they were completely off the mark.
For those who don’t know, Adventureland is the name of the mediocre theme park where James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) is forced to take a summer job. Once there, he meets the expected crew of misfits, jocks, hot girls, and of course Em, the requisite love interest (Kristen Stewart). Everybody working at Adventureland seems to want more out of life, and have dejectedly resigned themselves to their fate. They all feel trapped, even the park mechanic (Ryan Reynolds) who is cheating on his wife with Em.
As should be pretty apparent, there aren’t a lot of laughs in this movie. All of the characters are pretty miserable, and their only escape is through constant partying, drinking, and drug use. In fact, the only real humor of the movie comes from the managers of the park, played by the always hilarious Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig. Coming from SNL, they don’t really fit into the film thematically. Their characters are much broader and way more over-the-top. However, I found myself far more entertained whenever they were on screen.
Despite their presence, this is a subtle movie filled with realistic characters and authentic performances. However, it’s not all that entertaining. I loved the look and the feel of the film, but I didn’t find myself caring about any of the characters. Maybe I just couldn’t identify with their angst, but I really was expecting something more.
In watching the extras on the Blu-Ray, it feels as if there was a point where this was going to be a more straightforward comedy. Featuring fake commercials, an orientation video, etc. there seems to be a higher degree of satire than made it into the film. One of the many reasons the film feels so natural in depicting the eighties is the terrific soundtrack from the time. In putting the Blu-Ray together, they included a feature where you can select any of the songs from the film, and go directly to the scene where that song is featured. There is also a commentary with writer/director Greg Mottola (Superbad).
However, the most interesting feature for me was the brief making-of video where they showcase the real theme park where they filmed the movie. It was shot in a park called Kennywood and they didn’t have to change anything in terms of location. This is a real park that barely evolved visually since the eighties, and it is really neat to see that places like this exist in today’s modern, high-tech world.
Overall, I find it really hard to recommend this movie. I can appreciate the subtlety they were going for, but as a whole it just doesn’t work. I get why they had to market the film as they did, and I just wish that the finished product was more like what the advertising promised. Adventureland might make a decent rental for the eighties nostalgia, but beyond that, it’s just not worth it.