Tuesday of this year’s Sundance Film Festival (otherwise known as today) will be forever remembered as the day the 80s made an assault on my critical sensibilities. It all began with Adventureland, a coming of age teen comedy set in the summer of 1987. Directed by Greg Mattola, who made his mark in the comedy world with Superbad, Adventureland tells the story of James Brennan, an uptight recent college grad whose plans of trekking through Europe for an entire summer before the start of grad school are smashed by his parents’ announcement that they can no longer pay his way. Instead he is forced to take a lowly job running various games at a local theme park. Fortunately for him, what begins as the worst summer of his young life quickly transforms into an exciting adventure when he meets Em, a mysteriously troubled girl who instantly captures his heart.
Jesse Eisenberg (The Squid and the Whale) turns in an amusing and confident performance, giving James an awkward charm. Think Michael Cera, but a little more assertive. He is joined at the center of the story by Kristen Stewart (Twilight), who once again has found herself a character whose sole expression is that of despair. She’s certainly got the “distraught teen” look down. Luckily for her it works well in the confines of this role. Together they charm their way through countless memorable moments filled with summer lust, fireworks and oddball amusement park patrons. All the while, several of the film’s supporting characters — including the scene stealing Martin Starr (Knocked Up) as goofball fellow employee Joel — deliver some of the film’s best laugh out loud moments. Bill Hader and Kristen Wiigmake the most of what little screen time they are given as the amusement park’s eccentric managerial couple. Also in the scene stealing category is newcomer Margarita Levieva, who is sexy and sweet as the park’s tight-wearing, hard partying hottie Lisa P. And last but not least, Ryan Reynolds shows up as the park’s semi-sleazy maintenance man.
Well cast and at times very smart, Adventureland does deliver the laughs. It does suffer however, from a tired premise and a story filled with teen movie clichés. The cute, rebellious girl with a dark side and a secret that keeps her away from her oh-so-obvious Mr. Right. The nice guy geek who somehow gets a girl who is way out of his league, then quickly finds a way to lose her. Even the dickhead kid down the street whose idea of a good time is dropping our hero to his knees with a punch to the groin. We’ve seen this all once or twice, have we not?
Of course, as we found with Mattola’s work on Superbad, the film’s charm lies in the execution. From the big hair to the loud outfits to the kickin’ 80s soundtrack, the film does transport its audience back in time, to a time when we can all remember having a shitty summer job. It could have used a few more essentially 80s moments to fill up the nostalgia tank, but for the most part it gets the atmosphere right — and that’s the important thing. The performances are genuine and believable, notably subdued compared to the shenanigans that took place in Superbad. And above all it delivers laughs without having to use an abundance of cheap gags or shock moments. It isn’t the type of infectious comedy that will have you quoting lines for months and running back to the theater for multiple viewings, nor is it going to rattle you with comic brilliance. But it is a good time, and it appears as if that’s all it really wants to be.