January 21, 2009 / 3:23 AM / 11 years ago

"Adventureland" a winning coming-of-age comedy

Actor Jesse Eisenberg (L) and actress Kristen Stewart poses for a portrait while promoting the film "Adventureland" at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah January 20, 2009. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

PARK CITY, Utah (Hollywood Reporter) - Seasonal jobs always are loaded with crazy characters, no matter where, no matter when. Here the setting is 1987 Pittsburgh, at a summer carnival. “Adventureland” is packed with atmospheric details, but its universal teen theme reaches beyond any specific generation or place.

In the ongoing tradition of “American Graffiti” and “Fast Times as Ridgemont High,” the Sundance Film Festival selection, which Miramax will release in March, should earn high grades at the box office and in rental.

In this new oldie, Jesse Eisenberg stars as James, a brainy Pennsylvania high school grad whose summer of fun in Europe is derailed by family finances. He needs to take a summer job to get some money to study journalism at Columbia. With only high grades and scholastic honors, he’s, well, “inexperienced” in the teen job market. For James, that means a bottom-of-the-barrel job at Adventureland, the yearly carny that deposits itself in town.

With a keen affection for his own formative years, filmmaker Greg Mottola (“Superbad”) has crafted a funny and spunky amusement. He’s layered it with all the top teen troubles: bad parents, nutty bosses, weird co-workers, hot-pants vixens and terrible townies.

Under Mottola’s even hand, “Adventureland” is no mere freak show or mindless carnival house. Boosted by its romps and romances, it’s based on the sincere dreams and frustrations of its teenage characters. It embraces their anxieties, dreams and youthful valor.

As the touchstone character, Eisenberg is perfect as an intelligent and naive grad. Highly impressionable, he is spun around by girls, friends and authority figures. Kristen Stewart (“Twilight”) is similarly sympathetic as his summer love, a more mature girl with a disastrous home life.

Mottola has created a most engaging motley group of supporting characters — all credible in the transitional world of summer employment. Martin Starr stands out as an intellectual underachiever, while “Saturday Night Live” regular Bill Hader is memorable as the rah-rah big boss. Margarita Levieva is bubble-gum-popping as a teen tease.

Technical contributions are perfect signs of the times, including costume designer Melissa Toth’s summer-season duds and the savvy slew of ‘80s tunes spun amid Yo La Tengo’s atmospheric score.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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