What could be happier and more joyful than the flashing of colorful lights that illuminate the night in an amusement park? If Adventureland is any guide, it seems like just about everything else is happier. The movie is, without a doubt, a downer.
Don’t plop yourself down in the theater seat expecting a laugh-out-loud comedy like director Greg Mottola’s last offering: Superbad. Adventureland is not at all like what has been advertised. It’s not a comedy about the perils and excitements of working in an amusement park for the summer. Instead, it is much more of a romantic drama akin to a soap opera, where everyone is either sleeping with or trying to sleep with each other in big, tangled love webs. There’s adultery, deception, jealousy — essentially everything you would expect from a movie not marketed as a summer comedy. It is everything that I did not pay for.
It’s unfortunate that Adventureland didn’t do very much with what I was most excited for. The idea of a fresh college grad dealing with the trepidations of an amusement park full of morons was a very entertaining idea. The movie sets up a lot of possibilities to deliver upon this premise, showing how all the games are rigged and introducing a very possibly comical supporting cast of other workers. Despite this, it only shows few moments of amusement park pranks and the first one is just to introduce two characters to one another. For the most part, the movie could’ve been set any place where people work, which is a disappointment.
One of the biggest problems with dramatically shifting the genre away from the expected is that Adventureland doesn’t necessarily pull it off. If a movie is going to be almost entirely based upon character intrigue, the characters needs to be intriguing. Adventureland tries to introduce its characters as stereotypes as quickly as possible. There’s the nice guy, the beautiful troubled girl, the hot skank, the nerd, and the cool guy. There’s so little initial development of these characters that when the movie keeps trying to surprise the audience by having them go against their definitions, it doesn’t even feel significant. So the skank is a really a virgin? Who cares — she was barely mentioned before that shocking revelation came up.
It’s hard to find a character to fall in love with in the movie, which for me was its greatest downfall. The main character, James Brennan (Jesse Eisenburg), is supposed to be the awkward nice guy protagonist. He certainly is awkward. But he also has two beautiful girls inexplicably lauding him as the best guy they know shortly after meeting him when he hasn’t done anything nice at all! When he starts messing it up with the girls, I don’t think, “Aww, poor him,” I think, “Good, this tool didn’t do anything to earn any girls in the first place, I hope he gets killed by a ride.”
The same largely goes for Em (Kristen Stewart). Sure, she helps “our hero” out of a tight spot early, but just about as early we find out she’s sleeping with her married co-worker. Am I supposed to feel bad for her that her dad’s new wife sucks? I don’t. The closest any character comes to gaining my support is the nerd, Joel (Martin Starr). Joel never does anything to make me dislike him, but he also doesn’t do anything particularly great.
Adventureland isn’t a terrible movie-going experience, but it also isn’t anything I’d recommend to anyone. There’s nothing about it that holds me back from recommending you spend your money elsewhere.