in adventureland, college grad james brennan (jesse eisenberg) works a pennsylvania amusement park summer job to raise money for graduate school. it's 1987 and brennan listens to lou reed and the replacements, reads quiet days in clichy and can't repress his intellectual ambitions when he's stoned. yet, he's likeably callow-exactly opposite of the obnoxious brat eisenberg played in the loathsome the squid and the whale. while squid writer-director noah baumbach oozed malice and self-absorption (an unholy combo), adventureland writer-director greg mottola sees human folly as carnivalesque.
without over-stressing the title metaphor, adventureland is about social observation. the park is where poor and working-class kids, of necessity, join the labor force and learn how people (adults and children, men and women) get along. brennan's falling in love with em lewin (the debra wingerish kristen stewart) is only a little bit of a sentimental education; he also learns from the homilies of pop music. brennan's personal reading of reed's "satellite of love" instructs his studly mentor connell (coolly embodied by ryan reynolds) in a subplot borrowed from cameron crowe's the wild life. as in superbad, these jumbled pop culture signs make gen x nostalgia films seem like they take place in a food-processor/time machine.
but adventureland adds appreciable humanity to the genre, improving the adolescent egotism inflected by dazed and confused and the vulgar excesses of superbad (directed but, unfortunately, not written by mottola). where baumbach perverted the genre, piling on new york hipster cynicism, mottola shows a levelheaded sense of how privilege is envied by brennan and his peers. brennan even teases a pretentious friend ("he takes one semiotics course?") displaying an awareness of semiotics and self-deprecation that a pseud like baumbach could never achieve.
instead of a series of sexcapades like superbad, adventureland is enlivened by brennan's consciousness of the class frissons between catholics and jews and the gender role-playing evident in the ironic antagonism between over-experienced em and sexpot virgin lisa p. (margarita levieva). brennan's desire to mature includes facing life's unfairness. when em asks why he needs to go to grad school, his answer ("old boys network: you need connections.") is surprisingly forthright-as is his best friend's choosing harvard business school ("strings were pulled. wheels greased.").
adventureland's true meaning is found in mottola's favorite motif: as in his wonderful debut the daytrippers (1996), a kid riding in the backseat of his parents' car finds his way despite others maneuvering his life. this authentic experience makes adventureland nearly as endearing as fanboys and the wackness. it's modest but genuine. -- adventureland directed by greg mottola running time: 107 min.