‘Come summer back in 1987, recent college graduate James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), having attained a B.A. in comparative literature, realizes his shortcomings in the job market, “Turns out I’m not even qualified for manual labor.”
He’d had dreams of traipsing through Europe with a buddy, followed by graduate school in journalism at New York’s Columbia University, but when his parents (Jack Gilpin, Wendie Malick) pull the plug financially, James has no other choice but to man the rigged arcade games at an amusement park near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. While he’d prefer to work the rides, the mom-and-pop proprietors (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig of “SN”) deem him “a game guy.” So he finds himself calling a make-believe horse race on the midway, listening to the repetitive strains of “Rock Me Amadeus” on the loudspeakers, befriending brainy oddball Joel (Martin Starr), and flirting with sexy Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva), surrounded by the giant plush pandas he’s forbidden to give away. What he can dispense, however, is part of a stash of weed that he’s ‘accidentally’ acquired.
Not surprisingly, James is immediately attracted to sullen Em Lewin (Kristen Stewart), who is secretly involved with urbane Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds), a married maintenance man, who spins stories about the famous rock musicians he’s jammed with – like Lou Reed. (Not that Connell’s very convincing but his braggadocio does invite the use of Reed’s “Satellite of Love” on the potent soundtrack.)
During this short-lived summer, virginal James learns more at the theme park than in past four years he’s spent in academia. From the bumper cars to the Tilt-a-Whirl to the Tunnel of Love, it’s not all fun and games.
Writer/director Greg Mottola (“Superbad,” “The Daytrippers”) is obviously comfortable with underdog nostalgia, dipping a bit into Richard Linklater’s “Dazed and Confused” territory with this semi-autobiographical reminiscence that’s extremely well-acted by Jesse Eisenberg (“The Squid and the Whale”) and Kristen Stewart (“Twilight”). So on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Adventureland” is a sweet-natured 7. It’s amiable and appealing.