You may remember actor Jesse Eisenberg, he’s quite the hot-shot young actor in a circle of “I play disillusioned youngsters wanting to be Holden Caufield” roles. Go down the list. Go ahead. The Education of Charlie Banks – youngster? Check. Disillusioned? Check. Jesse Eisenberg? Double check! You can start doing this on your own. The Squid and the Whale? Check. Roger Dodger? Check.
So, the question begs, is Adventureland any different? Yes and no. Jesse plays James Brennan, an intellectual type trying to get through his three months between his college degree and graduate school. Turns out, however, he has no money (his parents’ cut him off) and no real job skills (he has a liberal arts/communications degree, for shame!), so he is forced to work in a sometimes sleazy, but usually entertaining, puke-o-rama amusement park. Since he’s more a “games person” than a “rides person” he learns all the ins-and-outs of bilking money out of people with mullets and their mulletted children. There he meets Em (Kristen Stewart), and through ups and downs (you see what I did there? It’s an amusement park – AMUSEMENT!), they woo each other while wolfing down pot cookies.
The big kicker of this movie? It’s set in 1987. Yeah, pretty mind-blowing. Actually, it doesn’t make that much of an impact other than having an excuse to play “Rock Me Amadeus” a million times. It hints at clashes between coke-snorting business-types and pot-smoking slackers, but only at surface level. Hell, if you want to know more about that, go to your local book seller and find anything by Bret Easton Ellis.
Bill Hader (am I wrong or was he about the best thing in Pineapple Express?) and Kristen Wiig (the best thing on SNL) play the park’s managers and, well, pretty much steal the show. Ryan Reynolds is the idyllic rebel musician, who is such a great musician that his day job is fixing rides rusted out from day-old Slurpees. The rest of the gang, made up of stock characters from any summer-camp movie from the 80s, fit in well with teased bangs, leopard-print stretch pants, and overly applied blue eye shadow (gotta love the 80s).
The film’s biggest tie to the 80s is actually more so in the mood – it feels more like Say Anything than director Greg Mottola’s last effort Superbad. Eisenberg plays a decent John Cusack, but I won’t dub him as the next Cusack-to-be until he lives up to Con Air and the nuanced non-screentime Cusack deftly molded into his character. I’m still writing angry letters to the Academy for missing out on a stellar moment in cinematic history to award such a brave choice. But that’s they way good actors are, always stepping over that line that the “Man” doesn’t dare tread. Sorry, I digress.
Hader and Wiig just make it more fun, but Eisenberg is worthy alone to bring you to buy your admission to Adventureland.
*Look out for the fine cameo by Monroeville Mall, the star of 1978’s Dawn of the Dead.
– ROSS CONKEY
Ross Conkey is a writer living in Chicago. He wants to be Keith David.