I went to see this middling though likable coming of age story for two reasons: First, it got surprisingly strong reviews from critics across the board, announcing it as something special. Second, I've been a fan of costar Martin Starr ever since seeing him as Bill Haverchuck in the lamented Freaks & Geeks TV series. He hasn't found the fame that many of the show's other young actors have, so I was happy to see him finally land a substantial role.
Starr is fine, and so is the rest of the cast, but there's something missing in Adventureland, Mottola's semi-autobiographical story about a recent college graduate (Jesse Eisenberg, the poor man's Michael Cera, who similarly played director Noah Baumbach's alter ego in the '80s-set The Squid and the Whale) whose parents' finances dwindle to the point where he has to take on a crappy job at a second-rate amusement park in Pittsburgh rather than spend the summer traveling through Europe with his rich buddy. Of course he finds friendship, love, and heartache, namely with his colleague Em (Kristen Stewart, who is sort of like a perpetually stoned Evan Rachel Wood).
Mottola should be lauded for a script devoid of cloying sentimentality. It seems honest and heartfelt. But like I said, there's something missing. Adventureland reaches but doesn't actually grab onto anything. More to the point, nobody, especially Mottola, is really trying very hard here. And so the whole film is like a shrug. It's purposefully set in 1987, yet it looks very much like 2009; only a couple of minor actors are in acid washed jeans, the movie's sexpot "Lisa P" is dressed like it's 1984 (you think three years didn't make a difference in '80s fashion? they sure did), and there isn't a mullet to be found.
Maybe I'm being a stickler, but since the story would've worked just fine if it took place today, I say if you're going to set it 22 years in the past then at least make the people look like they're 22 years in the past. So many movies recently have been set in the 1980s, and I have yet to find one that truly gets the look right. 1987 barely even registers culturally in the film. Nobody even mentions U2's The Joshua Tree or The Untouchables, yet nearly all the characters are knowledgeable about Lou Reed? Right.
Also, the film is set in Pittsburgh, but it could be Anywhere, USA, and I think there were some missed opportunities there. On top of that, although all the characters are around 22 years old, they act like they're 18. Perhaps that's Mottola's point, but it seems illogical that so many of them would be so naive, clueless, and virginal after graduating from college. The story would have lost nothing if Mottola had simply made them all fresh high school grads, and their behavior would have been a bit more believable.
I could go on, but in short, while I didn't dislike the film, I just felt that it could have done so much more, or reminded me more clearly of the pains of young adulthood, or at least made me feel nostalgic.