‘Adventureland’ a warm, winning, bittersweet romcom

by Bill Wine
Posted 2/5/21

It's a "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" essay with sprocket holes. And real insight. 


It's a "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" essay …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

‘Adventureland’ a warm, winning, bittersweet romcom


Each week, veteran film critic Bill Wine will look back at an important film that is worth watching, either for the first time or again.

It's a "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" essay with sprocket holes. And real insight. 

The sweetly melancholicAdventureland” (2009), set during a recession, tucks elements of Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, and Frontierland into a smart and immensely likable romantic comedy about workers at a summer amusement park.

Jesse Eisenberg plays James Brennan, a sensitive, sexually inexperienced, earnest college graduate from Pittsburgh whose plans for a summer trip to Europe before going to grad school are scotched when his parents announce that they can't afford to spring for it.

So, instead, the erudite James gets a minimum-wage summer job at the worse-for-wear local theme park that lends the film its title, working as a carnie at the rigged games booths and earning money he hopes to save for his college tuition.

Kristen Stewart is Em Lewin, a troubled, sharp-tongued co-worker with whom James is smitten.

James confides his feelings for Em to the park's maintenance man, Connell, played by Ryan Reynolds, not knowing that the married Connell is having an affair with her. Thus does the romantic triangle takes its shape.

James' quirky bosses, the married couple who own the park, are played by Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig. And their operation houses a host of rides, games, and colorful employees.

Writer-director Greg Mottola based his coming-of-age comedy on his experience at a Long Island amusement park when he was a student. Consequently, this is a relaxed and lived-in movie, with plenty of grace notes. Mottola's screenplay isn't afraid to turn serious instead of just manufacturing laughs, and the second half concentrates more on the characters and their relationships than the kinds of shenanigans that dominate the early reels. And that's as it should be.

The script lavishes real affection on all its characters, but especially on the two principals, taking a look at the pleasures and pains that go with first love, especially as experienced by young people who feel like outcasts and struggle for general acceptance and acknowledged self-worth as they seek some sort of adventure.

Eisenberg and Stewart are charming and contribute richly nuanced performances as the young leads. And because the script likes their characters, so do we. They and the talented performers who inhabit them help to make “Adventureland” subdued and endearing, more of a mild but pleasurable merry-go-round ride than a wild and threatening roller coaster romp.

“Adventureland” may not be all that adventurous, but it lands comfortably and rewardingly as a warm and winning, bittersweet and calm romcom.

Bill Wine is an Emmy-winning film critic who served in that capacity for WTXF and KYW Newsradio. He lives in Chestnut Hill.