A enjoyable journey, sans Journey tunes

BY KATIE HANSON | APRIL 06, 2009 7:30 AM

Film Review: Adventureland
**** out of *****

It’s no roller coaster, but this theme-park flick is worth the ride.

For everyone who has ever wondered if it would be fun to work in an amusement park, Adventureland has the answer:

Absolutely not.

Or at least it isn’t for the employees at Adventureland, which bears striking similarities to the theme park of the same name east of Altoona.

It’s 1987, and America is suffering from an economic recession and a dearth of Foreigner songs, although the film thankfully doesn’t stick too many knee socks or scrunchies onscreen.

College graduate James Brennan’s (Jesse Eisenberg) summer plans to travel Europe are dashed when his parents’ finances go down the tubes and he’s forced to go job hunting. But landing employment is not easy when James’ scant qualifications include a 770 on the SAT in math and a degree in comparative literature. His last resort is a job in the midway games at Adventureland, run by the couple Paulette and Bobby (Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, sporting a lucious ’stache.)

Among the horse-derby game (where Bobby and Paulette met) and the inexplicably titled the Flighing Dutchman, James befriends shaggy, Virgil-quoting Joel (Martin Starr, who may one day get a part in which he can have decent hair), who reveals to James all the sick ways carnival games are designed to cheat participants.

James is the nice guy’s nice guy who still uses the word “intercourse” and has saved his virginity through high school and college for true love (He’s not kidding around — as James relates while explaining his long-held V-card, “One day I was reading Shakespeare, and I realized I don’t really love this person.”). This makes his romance with the lovely, brooding Em (Kristen Stewart, who proves she can stand alone without the backdrop of supermodel vampires) all the more giddy and painful, considering Em’s affair with Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds), the maintenance man. Given his marriage and the story about a jam with Lou Reed he uses to lure the ladies, Connell would probably be a creep if he were played by anyone but Reynolds.

This is one of the many nice things about Adventureland, which rises above its conventional plot and peers in the coming-of-age genre. The screenplay includes numerous backstories for the supporting characters, which makes even the smutty ones sympathetic. Em needs lovin’ from both Connell and James to compensate for a frigid home life, and even Lisa P (Margarita Levieva), who would normally be a promiscuous bitch, is as threatening as her pink polka-dotted leggings (Which is to say, a little bit.).

The film doesn’t spring any surprises on the audience, but nothing is overdone, either. We are spared over-the-top confrontations, most gross-out humor, awkward angst, and any mention of the band Journey.

Adventureland is a sweet, low-key film, and one that’s worth much more than a trip to the ubiquitous amusement parks it portrays.

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