God, the previews for Adventureland are terrible. They make the movie look like it's a sitcom on the CW—a dumbass, slapsticky, laugh track-laden thing that spits and seizes along, offering an oh-so-wacky look at just how zany a summer job can be! And even if you manage to make it though the previews, you're hit with the vomit-inducing tagline: "It was the worst job they ever imagined... and the best time of their lives."
So because I'm an egomaniac, I'm gonna ask you to ignore Adventureland's stupid ad campaign and instead pay attention to me: Hilarious and poignant, Adventureland is written and directed by Greg Mottola (who helmed not only Superbad, but also episodes of Arrested Development and Undeclared), and it stars The Squid and the Whale's Jesse Eisenberg and also Kristen Stewart (who's apparently in some Mormon vampire movie that's like catnip for lonely middle-aged women), and also, Saturday Night Live's Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are in it.
Eisenberg plays James Brennan, who just graduated college with a useless major in "comparative literature and Renaissance studies." His plans are simple: backpack around Europe with friends, then go to Columbia for grad school. But when his father loses his job, Brennan's forced to return home and work at the crappy local amusement park, Adventureland. As Brennan's new coworker Joel (Martin Starr) puts it, he and Brennan are "doing the work of pathetic, lazy morons," and it doesn't help that Brennan's bosses are the vaguely creepy Bobby and Paulette (Hader and Wiig), nor that Adventureland's PA system blasts Falco's "Rock Me Amadeus" 20 times a day.
Luckily, Adventureland also employs the smart, sexy Em (Stewart), who Brennan quickly takes a liking to, and vice versa. But it's not quite that simple: Not only does Em see right through Brennan's false veneer of erudition and confidence, but she also might have something going on with Mike (Ryan Reynolds), Adventureland's kinda-cool, kinda-depressing maintenance guy who's 10 years older than everyone else there. While the earnest Brennan learns how disappointing and ugly the world outside of college is, and while Em deals with no small amount of personal drama, what results is a coming-of-age story that's awkward, sweet, funny, and has a really good soundtrack crammed with the Velvet Underground, the Cure, and that aforementioned Falco song.
Set in 1987, there's a sense of bittersweet nostalgia throughout Adventureland, and Mottola takes these characters a lot more seriously than those in either Arrested Development or Superbad. Adventureland is witty and dark enough to distance itself from the sappy clichés of the coming-of-age genre, but it's heartfelt enough to feel more genuine and insightful than the usual comedy where someone shouting "Boner!" counts as a punchline. (That said, someone does shout "Boner!" in Adventureland, and it's really funny when he does.) Adventureland is a hard movie to describe, but you should see it. And yeah, I realize that's not super eloquent or anything—but shit, it's gotta be better than ending this review with some dorky line about the worst job anyone ever imagined or the best time of somebody's life.