*** With minor spoilers***
I say minor because this is the type of movie you could still watch and enjoy even if you knew the entire plot. It's the opposite of High Concept- the Character Driven Story.
It might be suffering a bit from miss-marketing. What I got from the trailers was essentially a Superbadesque comedy by way of Diablo Cody, filtered through a Judd Apatow-ifier. Starring Kristen Stewart as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and a roadshow version of Michael Cera. Most of the reviews I read came down a little harshly that the third act didn't deliver as many laughs as the beginning. I wasn't that interested. But it was this, or Fast & Furious, so we went with Adventureland.
And I really liked it, with one complaint.
The acting was wonderful. Stewart needs to find another motion besides running her hands through her hair, but her character was far more complex and genuine than I expected. Jesse Eisenberg is fantastic. The supporting cast were pretty sincere as well, for being the typical comedic chorus of misfits.
For the way they were played up in the trailer, Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader have very little screen time, which was great. While they were funny, they played such ridiculously over the top characters that cutting to them was jarring after watching the much more realistic acting from the rest of the cast. Wiig and Hader seem to be doing an S&L skit in the middle of an otherwise offbeat dramatic film. Their scenes were the only times the story went totally off the rails in search of a laugh.
The storyline, for the most part, was also very honest. The characters are well-written and complex, and even with a minimal amount of action, the scenes are full and engaging. Everyone (with the exception of Wiig and Hader) behaves believably, and in the "dull" third act, consequences are actually meted out, and choices have to be made. And for the most part, this sticks to the logic of the rest of the film.
And here's where my single complaint comes in. Also a possible spoiler, if it weren't so obvious.
The setting of this film is Pennsylvania. Most of the characters, being college aged, are in a transitional phase, still dreaming and ambitious about their futures. Some of them are a little stuck, but they all have "Plans" even Stewart- although I don't think we ever even find out what her major is.
She plays Eisenberg's love interest, as we all know from basic plot formula. She is alluring, and mysterious, and beautiful, of course, but what seals it for Eisenberg is when she reveals that she is a student at NYU. That's right, she's practically a New Yorker. Everyone else in the cast seems to project the same ambition- to get out of town, lest they end up like any one of the "adults" in the cast, trapped, money grubbing, pathetic, desperate and still dreaming of moving away to one of the two acceptable places for interesting people to live their interesting lives. New York, or L.A. Eisenberg wants to attend grad school in New York, Stewart is a student there, even Ryan Reynolds, as the theme park maintenance man and self made local legend seems to dream of going "out to L.A." even though that at the age of perhaps 34, he is far too old to still be holding out any hope for his future. He has a Wife, after all, so his life is over, as every other married man in the Adventureland universe is portrayed as the kind of sad, wimpy suburban drone that Tyler Durden and Lester Burns revolted against. The only way to escape this is to move to New York or L.A. There are no acceptable alternatives.
Even though Eisenberg's character discusses with naive zeal his desire to travel the world, for him, that journey can only begin in New York. Stewart even asks, at one point, "Why do you have to go to school for that?" which I thought might lead to a natural kind of conclusion by the end, but no, it went the predictable route, with Eisenberg finally winding up in NY, where the invigorating spirit of the city was enough of a lift to make him feel like he'd accomplished something.
Because New York in 1987 was paradise, after all.
But I can forgive this. It is about the characters, and that is what's true to them. As a writer, I have a hard time looking at films or books without dissecting them. Advetureland is a film with nearly all the elements working together, to make a comedy that is funny because it's characters are natural and a little bit vulnerable, not because hijinx ensued. There are plenty of ways to make working at a crappy 80s theme park zany and ridiculous, but this time, the filmmakers created more of a portrait than a caricature.