Elaine at the movies

Elaine Blum

“Adventureland” is akin to every college senior’s nightmare: to graduate with a liberal arts education, specializing in medieval Russian literature or obscure languages, and be overly qualified for flipping burgers or running rides at a carnival. As a graduating senior fumbling to envision life after June 14, this plotline seems vaguely familiar.
The premise: After graduation, James is in desperate need of a summer job to garner funds for graduate school. Returning home, he discovers the only job available is working game booths at the local carnival. And, of course, some of the central conflict revolves around a mysterious love interest, Em.
Unlike most comedies, “Adventureland” is attuned to the college demographic. It features college-aged characters actually played by college-aged actors. Perhaps you had not yet realized, but this is a novelty. Usually we have 20-somethings portraying angsty teenagers in bubblegum romances that are aimed at preteens.
In comparison, this movie actually addresses what college kids think about: sex, money, the future, relationships, spirituality, etc. Even the jokes reflect the different demographic. True, there are those apparently quintessential lowbrow jokes, such as guys getting punched in the groin. However, the movie also includes inspired gems that reference Platonic forms. Some humor actually appeals to higher-educated young adults. What a concept.
Jesse Eisenberg leads the cast as James. This casting works well, given that Eisenberg looks like the everyman of college students. Unlike other over-stylized young male stars such as Zac Efron, Eisenberg actually looks like a typical college student. And besides being too-good-to-be-true charming, he acts like a typical college male. This too is something of a novelty in film.
Playing opposite Eisenberg is Kristen Stewart, who is most recognizable for her cheesy portrayal of Bella Swan, swoony love interest of a vampire in “Twilight.” In “Adventureland,” Stewart again plays the love interest, but the new role is a vast improvement – it actually shows that she has talent. Her character relies on subtle, nonverbal signals, which she handles deftly, and it also requires periodically appearing rattled and vulnerable – another trait for which she evidently has great talent. Hopefully Stewart can spend more time on insightful projects such as this and less time on teen melodramas.
Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig join the cast as married co-owners of the amusement park. We have seen Hader in past roles such as slacker cop Officer Slater in “Superbad” and in Saturday Night Live sketches. As Bobby, Hader is more subdued than in past performances, though he and Wiig do provide much of the comic relief. The two have an amusingly quirky relationship and provide several memorable scenes, including one involving stuffed bananas, googlie eyes and eye patches. Need I say more?
Audiences will also recognize Ryan Reynolds, who has performed in his fair share of comedies, including “Van Wilder,” “Waiting,” and “Just Friends.” Initially this role looks to be yet another in which he plays the suave, cool guy – not much of a stretch from past roles. The sleaziness of this role, however, does put a slightly different spin on an otherwise old character.
I hesitate to label “Adventureland” as a romantic comedy. It does have elements of boy-meets-girl and young adults fumbling through self-discovery. However, it also has subtle intellectual jokes and a completely satisfying ending that manages to avoid clichés. If it is part of the romantic comedy genre, it at least avoids the cloying, stereotypical formulae that leave me rolling my eyes.