What is an adventure? It's hard to define, but one thing is for sure; it cannot be planned.
Now Superbad is among my all-time favorite comedies, and Adventureland is just as great, if not better... and it couldn't be more different than Superbad if it tried.
Okay, I don't want anyone to read this and infer anything that I don't mean, so pay close attention to my words. Greg Mottola, with his newest film, has proven himself as one of those filmmakers, like Steven Spielberg, who is fully capable of making different types of films that fully succeed in the style he intends.
I am not, I repeat, am not, suggesting he is the next Steven Spielberg. However, I am suggeting that he is nothing short of a truly fantastic and capable filmmaker. Adventureland is a simple story that makes you smile, and makes you empathetic. If a film is able to bring empathy upon you, then it's done its job.
James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) is a college grad who is all set to go to Europe for the summer with his buddies. It's a trip they have been planning forever, and he couldn't be more excited. Unfortunately, as his mother informs him, his father has been relocated in his company to a significantly lower-paying position. As a result, James' parents are unable to help him pay for the trip. Not only that, but his extended plans of going to NYU in the fall are also in jeopardy. Looks like he has to get a summer job... as a college-gad... in Pittsburgh.
He's also a virgin.
Though it's not the summer he planned for, before long he finds himself a job at the theme park he spent his childhood at: Adventureland. It's your typical crappy summer job. He cleans up puke, is forbidden from giving away the "Big Ass Panda", and cannot eat the corndogs, for fear of the flu.
Soon enough he meets Em (Kristen Stewart), and the rest is history. Though she's significantly more experienced than him, she doesn't hold it against him. She sees his sweetness, and his tenderness (as does the audience, adding +1 to Eisenberg's acting). The rest unfolds as an antagonist-less love story at the epitome of a Middle-America theme park.
The main reason this movie is so good is because of the performances of the main actors. I've never before seen Jesse Eisenberg in anything, but his performance is so good that I can't wait to see him in his next project. Not only is he funny, but he's natural, and you really feel for him. Kristen Stewart is equally as endearing. This is another young actress to watch out for. Not a young Meryl Streep, but certainly a Kate Winslet.
Also notable here are the roles of Martin Starr and Ryan Reynolds. Anyone looking for roles as goofy as the ones these actors have played in the past will be disappointed. However, they both shine. Starr pulls off some emotion that I haven't seen him do since Freaks and Geeks. He is another vessel of Adventureland's empathy. Reynolds as well. He's not funny at all. He's simply a necessary part of the story, and I liked it. Also to note are the very funny performances of James' boss, Bobby (Bill Hader) and his wife, Paulette (Kristen Wiig). Hader is such a funny guy, and I can see him going very far.
Another reason I liked this movie as much as I did is because of the subtlety. While Superbad is a fantastically funny and zany film, filled with fast paced comedy and laughs, Adventureland is almost the opposite. It's still very, very funny, but it's the type of funny that is clever, and reliant on the acting. It makes you think. Even the characters and interactions have sub-layers going on, so that you have to work your mind and think about the implications of things. It's nice to see a comedy with this characteristic. It's refreshing.
The one thing I can criticize however, is the fact that the fact that James is a college graduate is a bit hard to believe. He has no facial hair, and acts like a high-schooler. I had to keep reminding myself that he had just graduated college, and not high school.
Adventureland is very, very good. I don't know how to put it differently. If fans of Superbad go in expecting something like it, they will be disappointed. But if fans of good movies go in, expecting it to be good, then not only will they be satisfied, they will be rewarded. Rating it is difficult. A 5 is a bit generous, yes, but it certainly does not deserve a 4.
An adventure is not planned. It happens to you when you least expect it. Taking a metaphor from the film, if you go to temple to get over your recently deceased wife, you just might meet the next love of your life. And if you spend a summer doing something you didn't plan, you just might meet the next love of your life. Now that is an adventure.