Touted in ads as the latest raucous comedy from the director of Superbad, Adventureland isn't what it looks like -- but it's still good. With an even makeup of one part '80s nostalgia, one part rowdy teen farce, and one part pensive, emotional drama, the film may seem a little modest at first (especially for those expecting it to push the fantastic limits of manic R-rated teenage hilarity the way its predecessor did), but don't write it off as emo. Most of the sentimental stuff is genuine and sweet. And, yes, there are plenty of dick jokes.
The story takes place in 1987, as James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) has just finished college, and is gearing up for a trip to Europe before starting grad school in the fall. But, of course, things don't go as planned, and he ends up back at his parents' house, working at the local amusement park to stash away money for next year's rent. Lots of quality workplace humor ensues, as James spends his summer vacation awarding the winners of rigged carnival games with cheap plush toys, bonding with hometown losers and other weirdos (Ryan Reynolds, Martin Starr), falling in love with the park's resident sarcastic hottie (Kristen Stewart), and getting punched in the balls every day by his spastic childhood best friend (Matt Bush).
It covers all the requisite ground for a nostalgic coming-of-age summer comedy/romance (the hero discovering his dad's vices, an embarrassing case of arrested virginity, flagrant use of "Rock Me Amadeus"), but Adventureland works because it does all of that really, really well. That's partly thanks to a spot-on cast. Eisenberg carries the movie with a graceful balance of charisma and nerdiness, tempering his athletic build and cut-from-marble cheekbones with a guileless stammer (even if he does sometimes sound like he's doing an impression of Michael Cera), and Kristen Stewart is fairly irresistible as the sometimes awkward, always disarming love interest, Em. Ryan Reynolds also turns in an impressive performance, in what turns out to be a kind of self-effacing role for an actor who made a name for himself playing the fast-talking cool guy.
Adventureland is also delightful because it's intensely sincere -- something hard to pull off in a movie set in the dated, but not yet historical past. Because the movie never feels sneering or mean-spirited, it makes this particular past feel like your own, even if your formative summers never involved menial labor, acid-wash jeans, or torrid first romances with reticent brunettes. It all inspires a sense of affection that makes it easy to love, whether the hero is pouring his heart out, or just enduring a good old-fashioned punch to the testicles.