These days, awkward humor seems all the rage. Where we once had a laugh-out-loud, almost malicious, sense of humor about people getting into car accidents, getting beaten up, and getting AIDs (slapstick humor), we now have people in those same situations, except now the audience feels uncomfortable laughing. And it’s not that we’ve grown to be more compassionate. We know it’s funny when a character does something completely wrong, but for some reason we are almost wincing as we laugh nervously. Steve Carell’s work in The Office has loads of this type of humor.
I like this type of humor, and when I first heard about Adventureland, I had a feeling it would be this type of movie: like Garden State, except at an amusement park. I also hoped that the movie was going to be about the Adventureland in my home area. It wasn’t. My Adventureland is much smaller, and the rides are even older than the rides in the movie (which is supposed to take place in 1987. ‘Nuff said.) Ryan Reynolds would be in it. Even crazier, I first heard about the movie due to digital advertising, so it felt like this movie was made for me to review.
So why am I reviewing it years later? Laziness, probably, but also because I listened to people who saw the movie before I planned to. “Not what you’d expect”, “not funny”, and “kinda depressing” were some of the bar-top reviews. Instead of being a good critic and going to see it anyway, I put it away on my mental Netflix queue and forgot about it. When I was finally given a copy, I felt it was time to knock out a review.
The plot is straightforward enough. It’s 1987, and James (Jesse Eisenberg) needs to work for the summer and save up money to go to college in New York instead of running off to Europe with his college roommate. After running around with his resumé, which shows a whole lot of college but nothing else, James gets a job as at the local theme park, Adventureland. Being the suavely awkward virgin that he is, James befriends older-version nerdy guy Joel (Martin Starr), falls in love with 80s hipster Em (Kristen Stewart), and prepares himself for the real world more than college ever did.
So what does this movie have besides a killers 80s soundtrack that makes me feel like I was born about 10 years too late? It’s really hard to tell. So it goes with most “slice of life” films. The big picture theme is self-realization. How James gets there is the movie. While there may be a few comic relief moments thrown in, such as sack-punches by Frigo (Matt Bush), park mishaps with manager Bobby (Bill Hader), and erection jokes, the focus of the movie in awkwardness. Connell (Ryan Reynolds), who is having an affair with Em, tells Em about James’ feeling for her. James drinks and drives thanks to the bottle of liquor his dad keeps in the car since he was demoted at his company. James mentions that he’s a virgin to almost every girl he meets. Connell, who says he once played with Lou Reed, has a hard time remembering song names of Lou Reed, and can’t even recognize Lou Reed on the radio.
There isn’t much bad about the movie. The problem, I think, is that everyone expected a goofy movie like Superbad, since it was touted as being directed by Greg Mottola. Add that to Ryan Reynolds being in the movie, and the last thing you expect is a dramedy.
The only thing I could really gripe about in this movie was how James and Em end up together at the end. If I pulled that shit, I highly doubt any girl would let me in their apartment when I unexpectedly show up at her doorstep on a rainy night. I would think I would get sack-punched myself and shoved into the nearest puddle. Other than that, if I graduated college in the 80s, I probably would have been something like James. Either that or a composite of Billy Idol and Robert Smith.
I give this movie 3.5 water-drenched Kristen Stewarts wearing a David Bowie T-shirt. Add 1/4 star if you dig 80s music. Add another 1/4 star if you lived in the 80s. Add another 1/2 star if you ever worked as a carnie.