Although it may appear differently, “Adventureland” is not about the people who work at the theme park, but rather about the ways our entire lives can be congruent with the existence of a theme park, especially those with post college angst. Just like the rollercoasters, we have ups and downs and break and must be fixed. Some things in life are rigged and there is nothing we can do to change the inevitable toll that these troubles will take. The one thing we can do is learn from our mistakes, dust ourselves off, and jump on another ride because, after all, what defines us as humans is not that we continue to fall off, but rather that we keep riding.
Jesse Eisenberg, tremendous in “The Squid and the Whale,” effortlessly commands the screen as James Brennan, a boy attempting to turn into a man with no idea of what responsibilities accompany this uncertain future. Eisenberg has a unique ability in allowing the audience to decipher his feelings at one moment and become completely clueless the next. Because of this, he tranquilly creates a mysterious and emotionally complex character whose uneasiness with people is exceeded only by his fear of the future. James has recently received his undergraduate degree and plans on backpacking around Europe for the summer until these plans are detoured by his father’s unfortunate reassignment and inferior income.
Since James has little actual work experience, he begins feverishly searching for a summer job that could fulfill his dream of attending Columbia University for his graduate studies. James is an extremely intelligent individual who finds it ironic that his degree still does not qualify him for manual labor. Finally, he is basically coerced into taking a position at Adventureland in the games department, which does not exactly stimulate his intellectual capabilities.
The summer appears as if it will be a horrific, perpetual bore until he notices Em, magnificently played by Kristen Stewart, at another games station and begins a leisurely courtship that is constituted of after hours parties and brief glances in each others directions that are more intimate and meaningful than thousands of words put together. Stewart has sad eyes that indicate past hurt that continuously affect her personal choices that can turn into fiercely focused swords if she feels like someone she cares for is being wronged. Em pushes people away, terrified they will abandon her, with the belief that she will lose them to the cruel and unfeeling nature of the world no matter how hard she fights against it.
The great thing about “Adventureland” is that there are certain truths and understandings between the characters that are not verbalized because that would simply diminish the significance of these important moments. There are scenes between these people that perfectly capture the deeply felt essence of these important silences. The instances in which Eisenberg and Stewart simply stare at each other in awe, without the ability to talk about their mutual feelings for fear their words will be blown away by the wind, is an incredibly poignant and realistic view of these damaged, timid people.
The supporting performances provide excellent complements to the blossoming relationship of the leads, especially from Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds has wisdom beyond his years as Connell, the mechanic who often states universal certainties about people without possessing the ability for self-evaluation. He is a sad character who is unhappy with his existence and decides to live a lie because the admiration from others allows him to look more easily into the mirror. As with the remainder of the characters, Connell makes multiple mistakes and plays devious emotional tricks on others not out of malice, but rather derived from harsh realizations they wish were not true. All of the people have profound depths to their personae whose influences are carefully unveiled throughout the film, displaying imperfect judgment because they are plausible individuals who continuously make human errors.
These kids are at the age when they get away from their problems by smoking weed or drinking, deeply hoping that when they awake from their blurred, inebriated, haze all of the answers to their questions will be clear. Although they continue to search and get nowhere, these easily accessible items do contain a brief respite from the cruel, unforgiving real life world that is as far away from Adventureland as possible.
“Adventureland” is the most accurate examination of post-collegiate stress, mainly involving finding out your place in life and what the future may hold, that I can remember. The pollution of Pittsburgh makes the horizon foggy, coinciding with the uncertain and indistinguishable futures these characters are reluctant to realize. “Adventureland” does not limit itself to focusing only on issues having to deal with young adults, but also expresses widespread ideas about humanity. The film also shows how sins from parents can severely affect their children, passed them on as character traits to the latter generation. It is also about being accountable for your actions, even if it inconveniences your life in the process. This is a monumentally vital time in these people’s lives because every scene, every moment could be pivotal in their lives, marking the extreme difference between dreams achieved and hopes vanished.
This is a wonderful film that astonished me with its complete and perfect illustration of these issues that people will forever struggle over. I love this movie because it allows its characters to make real, intelligent, difficult decisions that are not made easier by fortuitous and unrealistic events. The filmmakers cherish every character to such an exorbitant extent that they even allow privacy for their most intimate and emotionally important events in their lives to be shown off screen, such as what happens with James as the credits begin to roll. “Adventureland” is not about what will take place in James’s life, but rather the tumultuous path he took from beginning to end.
At one point, the characters argue the difference between when men make poor decisions, mostly involving their sexual encounters, and women. “Adventureland” argues that there is no difference. Everyone has a choice on the moral standards they institute and force upon themselves and each of these sins should be treated equally. This is precisely what separates us from any real “Big Ass Panda.”