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It's rare that an event represented in a two-hour movie can singlehandedly turn a kid into a grownup.

After graduating university, book-smart virgin James (Jesse Eisenberg) is forced to get a summer job when his father is demoted. Working a game booth at theme park Adventureland doesn't just seem beneath his education, it's also his induction into the working class.

Coming-of-age is a narrative device. It's rare that an event represented in a two-hour movie (especially one as non-tragic as a summer job) can singlehandedly turn a kid into a grownup. But what makes Adventureland's youth nostalgia palatable---enough so that the film is refreshingly good---is that it's carefully observed.

Greg Mottola also directed Superbad, but by penning Adventureland's superior script, the comedic ennui speaks from experience. James falls for troubled co-worker Em (Kristen Stewart). Their relationship is its own Adventureland---James' every uncertain move and decision is about moral self-discovery. Allowing James fallible qualities gives Adventureland an authenticity missing from John Cusack's too-perfect lead in Say Anything....

The 1987 setting provides atmosphere for Mottola's semi-autobiographical tale. Against a fireworks display, Crowded House's cheesy "Don't Dream It's Over" takes on a youthful infinity. Too bad Mottola didn't have the budget to keep The Smiths' "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" (the greatest of all teenage love songs), though the kids at a carnival scenario in Adventureland works as a companion piece to the band's "Rusholme Ruffians."

Adventureland has some of the understated but profound comic touch of last year's Hamlet 2. This one isn't concerned with social satire, but finds strength in social understanding.

The opening of Sunshine Cleaning throws a loop. A man parks his car at a gun store, makes a purchase and blows his brains out. It's the most bluntly vicious moment in the film. Yet, it's too easy to mistake what follows for cutesy-gory-quirkiness.

Rated R (MPAA) · 106 min. · 2009
Official Site:
Director: Greg Mottola
Writer: Greg Mottola
Producer: Anne Carey
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds, Bill Hader, Martin Starr, Kristen Wiig, Margarita Levieva, Jesse Eisenberg, Josh Pais, Mary Birdsong and Kevin Breznahan


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