Adventureland Review: Rollercoaster Of Love

ADVENTURELAND: On General Release across the UK from Friday 11th September 2009

The indie, left-field romantic comedy is a frustratingly difficult genre to perfect.

Play it too quirky and the critics will snootily deride you as a ‘hipster try hard’, but veer too conservatively down the cliched ‘boy meets girl’ trail and you can be left forgotten in the annals of ‘blah’ romcom history.

Greg Mottolla is better suited than most to succeed, what with possessing a CV that lists directorial duties on 2007’s shamelessly crude, coming of age tale Superbad and numerous stints on one of the funniest, wittiest and most intelligent television comedies ever made, Arrested Development.

Adventureland is a tempered balance of the two: nostalgically relatable enough to strike that wistful teenage nerve within us all, indie enough to charm, and possessing of an authenticity that’s lacking in many a modern romcom.

Jesse Eisenberg (imagine a geekier, blustering Simon Amstell) stars as James Brennan, a virginal, nervously sincere high school graduate who ends up having to work at his town’s amusement park over the summer to pay his way through college.

While James initially views ‘Adventureland’ with its creaky rides and monotonous musak as the very definition of irony manifest, the camaraderie amongst the teen workers, summertime romances and a heady amount of pot-smoking inevitably shapes him into the man he’s destined to become.

Which, as coming of age stories go, is fairly standard.

It’s in the lovingly recreated, attention to period detail and expertly observed teenage hierarchies that Mottolla is able to draw an endearing warmth and connection from the audience.

The park – as all summer jobs are – is a world within itself. Friendships are formed over nothing but a crafty dooby while on shift or a quick bottle of Bud at the end of the day, the management is both deluded and awe-inspiringly mythic (Bill Heder nabbing the laughs in yet another scene-stealing turn) and romances are almost always magnified into a state of irascible lust or constant longing.

The very essence of what it feels like to be a teenage dreamer with a seemingly fruitless future is creatively funneled through the monotony of the rite of passage that is the frustratingly inane summer job.

More essentially, it’s able to capture the free-living, care-free flush of that initial romance, as James and Em connect and subsequently explode in awkward teenage angst, misplaced longing and inevitable complications.

There may be nothing particularly original on show, and Adventureland may not be as whimsical or magical as this summer’s flagship alternative romcom (500) Days Of Summer, but that’s because this is less a love story and more a ‘first love’ story.

And like all first loves, for all its quibbling faults, you can’t help but remember it fondly.

Matt Risley