The 'Land of the Lost

Drawn from Superbad director Greg Mottola’s own experiences working at a ramshackle suburban amusement park in the 1980s, Adventureland feels at once personal and generational, a Proustian madeleine for anyone who rode the roller coaster of post-adolescence while Iran-Contra was in prime time and Wang Chung on the radio. For self-serious aspiring travel writer James (Jesse Eisenberg), the summer of 1987 is supposed to be spent backpacking through Europe, until a family fiscal crisis forces him into the only job he can find, manning a games booth at a low-fi Pittsburgh fun zone, where the ride operators rule the roost and a leather-jacketed maintenance man (Ryan Reynolds), who claims to have once jammed with Lou Reed, exudes an air of impossible cool. The film centers on the virginal James’s courtship of a comely arcade attendant (Kristen Stewart, here tapping into an emotional reservoir that Twilight neither revealed nor demanded), who inspires him toward a newfound self-confidence, which he then nearly blows by succumbing to the tawdry temptations of a gum-chewing, bra-strap-baring ride girl. But if Adventureland inevitably traffics in certain clichés of teen and twentysomething relationship movies, Mottola cuts so swiftly to the underlying truth of those clichés -- to the euphoria and pain of youthful rites of passage -- that he leaves most of the genre looking especially plastic and shallow.
May 22-28, 2009

 
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