Success in the Hollywood mainstream is often pretty much all about the maths – "from the people who brought you X" + "starring Y" x "vogue for Z" = smash. Here we have bloke behind Superbad, plus the girl from Twilight and the boy from Zombieland. Should be solid enough, you'd hope. 

Gloriously, Adventureland is much more than solid. Funny, smart, cool and cannily observed, it manages to wear the often-unflattering coming-of-age genre suit and still turn it into something quite fetching. 

When his father is blessed with a lousy job relocation and a pay cut, college-bound James (Jesse Eisenberg) is forced to ditch his plans to get all decadent in Europe, and instead make do with a crappy summer job in an amusement park with his pal Frigo - a man whose key mode of expression is a punch to the balls.

Feeling a fish out of water, and with testicular bruising his constant companion, solace for James arrives in the form of troubled indie hipster Em (Kristen Stewart), and soon a shared love of Lou Reed and dope provides the romantic glue between the pair. But their fling only papers over the problems that remain in their families and the lack of any real future to look forward to beyond the summer holiday.

To describe Adventureland in such terms will in all likelihood make it sound incredibly tepid, but it manages to rise above that and gnaw away at the inside of your head, doing guitar solos on our shared teenage memories. Overall it's the feelings that it captures that are most striking. Never going for the overblown gesture, it superbly captures the uncertainties of being a teenager, along with the feeling of being an outsider, while also revelling in the joy of the freedom and stupidity there is at that age, and the tight bonds that grow when you're stuck in a shitty job.

It may be set in the 1980s, but ironically, that just makes it all the more perennial, when you factor in the now-ness of lead actors Eisenberg and Stewart, both of whom do bang-up jobs - both mixing cockiness with struggle for identity. The script, narrative and casting all work in perfect sync too - there are plenty of clichéd characters in there, from the Napoleon Dynamite to the hot chick, but there's always the sense that they're more than just personality shells.

We shouldn't really feel much sympathy with James, after all, he's a middle-class smart-ass who hasn't really got any problems when compared to the central character in the film Precious, but you get sucked into these characters' lives more than you do with Precious.

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This really is great stuff. I'd be disappointed, but won't be surprised if some people don't find it that compelling - the reliance on character over laughs may disappoint some, though low blows have rarely been as funny, plus there are more than enough great lines buried in there to keep you going. But it's a genuinely smart bit of cinema - funny and truthful, without dumbing down, with great characters whose stories are all perfectly told.   
Rating: 15
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds
Directed by: Greg Mottola

Extras: featurette, commentary, deleted scenes 

Sections TV