Teen Angst in “Adventureland”

courtesy of miramax films

courtesy of miramax films
Kristen Stewart (right) of “Twilight” fame works a boring summer job in the retro comedy, “Adventureland.”


Normally, I don’t like Kristin Stewart. I know that she’s the lead in “Twilight” and thus the prepubescent’s modern-day Juliet, but there’s just something about Stewart that irks me. Maybe it’s that her characters are unconvincing or maybe it’s just that her PR person isn’t so great. But regardless of all that, what I had against Stewart melted away with “Adventureland.”

Set in the summer of 1987 and littered with mini weed blunts and cheesy but excellent ’80s songs, “Adventureland” follows immature adolescents in their struggles to find happiness. Stewart is Em, a New York City student home for the summer. To get away from her rich lawyer father and his status-obsessed, wig-wearing wife, Em works at Adventureland, a kind of throw-back, tacky Orange County fair. There she meets James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), a toned down Micheal Cera-like character who, thanks to his alcoholic father’s sudden job loss, has to work his way through the summer to be able to go to grad school at Columbia.

From there, we delve into the world of Adventureland, from the staff’s arcade breaks to the after-work parties. Ryan Reynolds plays in “Adventureland” as Mike Connell, the older fix-it man of Adventureland who seduces the ladies with stories of playing with a band whose song titles he can’t even accurately remember.

This summer, Em has fallen for his tricks, and within the first 15 minutes of the film we discover that she is the girl the married man has chosen to sneak around with this year.

What James doesn’t know can’t hurt him (for now), and through the rides, the joints, the drinking and the tighty-whitey swimming sessions, he endearingly falls head over heels for Em. Stewart’s Em is gutsy and honest in a way that both James and the audience can dig.

Em wants him, but she doesn’t. She’s trapped. So she does what anybody in a tight spot does and pushes him away and into the arms of the Adventureland hottie, Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva). Lisa P.’s job at the fair is to collect tickets at the Disco Ride and then do some sort of seductive gyrating in front of the operator’s booth with her friend, Kelly, while the ride is in motion. Sometimes she wears pink leopard-print tights. Really? This is not a job.

But then, while this film is called “Adventureland,” it’s not really about their jobs. It’s about the not-so-easy lives of the people who work there, people who get knocked down in different ways and struggle to find some token of happiness. While it’s not as knee-slappingly hilarious as director Greg Mottola’s last big hit, “Superbad,” it reaches for something more.

Although it’s not without its faults; as he fleshes out the characters, Mottola’s medley of crude humor features the kind of crotch punching, puking, excessive drinking and pot smoking that might be better fitted for characters in high school or even, at times, middle school. Although Em’s overly botoxed stepmother Francy (Mary Birdson) is horrible and the situation Em finds herself in is genuinely terrible, Francy is a cliché, as are James’ meek alcoholic father and high-strung, shrieking mother.

But Mottola delivers an ending that, despite the film’s downfalls, feels authentic. “Adventureland” is more serious than “Superbad,” but still ends on a light tone — boy gets girl, or, maybe this time since the girl messed up, girl gets boy, and then some (in the form of some deflowering on someone’s part).

And at least by the end of “Adventureland,” Stewart has done herself some good. We are finally able to see her play someone who is just a regular person, someone who makes massive mistakes and struggles to mend them. She is able to make Em feel like someone you could meet on the street and have a real conversation with. She won’t go on to talk about how she talked to the ghosts in her walls (“The Messengers”) or how her boyfriend’s skin glows when he steps into sunlight (“Twilight”), and she is, as Em, graceful and believable. Stewart takes on her character in all of her moodiness and spunk and gives her life, probably giving her career more life, too.

“Adventureland” hails more chuckles than laughs than Mottola’s last hit, “Superbad,” but it takes the time to flesh out its characters and draw you in. It’s at times insightful, at times disgustingly funny, and it grows on you. If you’re already over spring quarter and are looking forward to summer plans, this light-hearted film about some of the heavier things is perfect for you.