EmptySeasonal jobs are loaded with crazy characters, no matter where, no matter when. Here it's Pittsburgh, 1987, at a summer carnival. While packed with atmospheric details and particulars, the film's universal teen theme reaches beyond any specific generation or place.
In the tradition of "American Graffiti" and "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," "Adventureland" will be a high grader at the boxoffice for Miramax and on DVD.
In this new oldie, Jesse Eisenberg stars as James, a brainy high school grad whose summer of fun in Europe is derailed by family finances. He needs to take a summer job to get some money to study journalism at Columbia. With only high grades and scholastic honors, he's, well, "inexperienced" in the teen job market. For James, that means a bottom-of-the-barrel job at Adventureland, the yearly carnival that deposits itself in town.
With a keen affection for his own formative years, writer-director Greg Mottola has crafted a funny and spunky amusement. He has layered it with all the top teen troubles: bad parents, nutty bosses, weird co-workers, hot-pants vixens and terrible townies.
Yet, under Mottola's even hand, "Adventureland" is no mere freak show or mindless carnival house. Boosted by its romps and romances, it's based on the sincere dreams and frustrations of its teenage characters. It embraces their anxieties, dreams and youthful valor.
As the touchstone character, Eisenberg is perfect as an intelligent and naive grad. Highly impressionable, he is spun around by girls, friends and authority figures. Kristen Stewart is similarly sympathetic as his summer love, a more mature girl who is spun by an "older" twentysomething musician and a disastrous home life.
Most engaging, Mottola has created a motley group of supporting characters — all credible in the transitional world of summer employment. Martin Starr stands out as an intellectual underachiever, while Bill Hader is memorable as the rah-rah big boss. Margarita Levieva is bubble-gum popping as a teen tease and rides girl.
Technical contributions are perfect signs of the times, including costume designer Melissa Toth's summer-season duds and the savvy slew of '80s tunes spun amid Yo La Tengo's atmospheric score. (partialdiff)