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 on 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 lo-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' 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 20-something 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.
Stewart provides a summer surprise for Eisenberg.
Opens at Metro and other theaters, Fri., April 3. Rated R. 104 minutes.