Adventureland is one of those films that has nothing that’s really wrong with it, but nothing spectacular either. It’s a coming-of-age comedy with a tacked-on romantic element that follows many standards in the genre, not adding much originality or character that makes you keep watching. It’s also well-acted, intermittently funny and has heart.
The film stars Jesse Eisenberg as college student James Brennan, a man who is in dire need of money. His parents had promised him money for a summer trip, but after his father is forced to take a different job, money is tight. The only thing he’s qualified for is hosting games at a theme park named “Adventureland”. The rest of the film takes place over the course of the summer, and the antics of the workers he meets there.
Most importantly, he meets a girl named “Em” (Kristen Stewart), who also works at the park. They bond quickly, and while working at the park, it’s clear that he wants to be more than friends with her. Whether or not she wants the same is something that drives the majority of the story from the point they meet. There are a couple of twists throughout the film, but nothing incredibly surprising.
Some tension also comes from James, (and the rest of the male workers), lusting over another female at the park named Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva). So much of this film is spent in the romantic area that it borders on becoming boring. It rarely does, because of the aforementioned twists, but it comes close. There is also a lack of tension for long stretches, which are often broken by one of the characters making a poor decision.
James is the sweet guy, the one who wants to wait until he’s “in love” before taking a relationship to the “next level”. Em is the opposite, being far more experienced in that area than he is. This upsets him a little bit, but he seems willing to overcome that. Both actors are good in their role, even if it’s exactly the role you would expect Jesse Eisenberg to play.
I have two main problems with Adventureland. The first is how the story doesn’t really take off…ever, really. There are short bursts of excitement followed by long, drawn-out periods of boredom. The second problem I have is that during these droughts, the film isn’t funny. This second criticism is far more subjective than the first, but I feel it worth mentioning regardless. There aren’t many jokes or gags involved, and I found it hard to find much about the film funny, save for the comedic turn by Kristen Wiig and the comic performance by Bill Hader, both playing managers of the theme park.
I’m thinking that it was the advertising and promotion that puts people in the wrong mindset when getting ready to watch Adventureland. It was advertised as a light-hearted comedy, while in reality, it’s fairly dark. These characters all have flaws, and feel like real people. There are much fewer laughs than promoted as well; I believe Adventureland to be far more of a drama than a comedy.
Looking at it in that light actually makes me look at it more favorably. As a comedy, it really doesn’t succeed. Comedies make you laugh, smile or otherwise attempt to improve your mood. While Adventureland will do that occasionally, it’s mostly just interested in telling a slightly clichéd coming-of-age story with both dark and light moments scattered throughout. Just like in real life.
That’s probably the best thing that Adventureland has going for it; everything feels like it could happen. This works against it in some cases, as it means there are definitely some boring parts, but for the most part, it means that its characters are interesting and relatable. The relationships seem real because the characters do. This is the film’s strength.
Adventureland is a film that I have mixed feelings about. On one hand, it’s a nice enough drama with good actors and interesting characters. On the other, it’s not very funny and it lacks much story other than throwing cliché after cliché of romantic fluff at us. It’s interesting, and worth a watch for people who need proof that Kristen Stewart is a good actor, but if you go in expecting a really funny, light-hearted comedy, you’ll want to look elsewhere.