It's the summer of 1987. James Brennan, having just graduated from Oberlin College, looks forward to a vacation in Europe with a friend and then graduate school at Columbia University. One little problem: after a financial setback, his parents can no longer afford to help him pay for either. What's a poor over-educated, under-experienced lit-major nerd to do? Oh, get a grunt job at the arcade in the eponymous "Adventureland" amusement park.
Jesse Eisenberg stars as Brennan. Kristen Stewart co-stars as his primary love interest, Emily "Em" Lewin. Ryan Reynolds provides the Romantic False Lead, one Mike Connell. Mike is a cool, badass coworker who leads a rock band in his spare time. It's said he once jammed with Lou Reed.
While not a box office smash, this 2009 film received good reviews and gained a respectable fan following. Written and directed by Greg Mottola, who had previously directed Superbad, Adventureland attempts a more realistic approach, rather than relying on outlandish hijinks.
Believe it or not, the "Adventureland" theme park on which the theme park is based actually exists. However, it is located on Long Island, New York. It can be found here.
This film provides examples of:
- The Alcoholic: It's hinted that James's dad is this when James finds a bottle of liquor in the family car. When James gets into a drunken accident and his mom is tearing into him about it, his dad looks panic-stricken that James might shift some of the blame to him, but James doesn't.
- All Drummers Are Animals: Munch, really only shown during the scene when he re-enacts the time when he played "Limelight" by Rush.
- Anachronism Stew:
- A lot of the fashion looks more like it comes from The '90s rather than The '80s (with the salient exception of the club scenes). Jesse Eisenberg's hair and mannerisms all but scream Millenial, and using slang terms like "weed" rather than "pot" or shortening "douchebag" to "douche" are at least somewhat questionable. A good deal of this could have been averted, since the only real reason for this story to take place in 1987 is, presumably, the director's nostalgia factor (small, rural amusement parks like this do exist today, and even maintain a lot of the old prize games left over from days of yore), and the fact that much of the third act could have been easily resolved with a few text messages.
- The characters are also very fond of the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed in particular, but this is Truth in Television; people of all generations grow up listening to music from previous generations, and Reed's status as an important forebearer to punk and alternative music had been solidified by the late 1980s.
- Ax-Crazy: Parodied. Bobby has an aluminum baseball bat, and he would love for you to give him a reason to use it (but it's just an act to keep the scariest customers at bay).
- Betty and Veronica: A double, perhaps triple case: Lisa P is Veronica, Em is Betty to James, while Connell is the Veronica to James' Betty for Em. You could also see Connell's wife as Veronica and Em as Betty for him.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Connell is a mild version of this. He gives James advice on everything and takes him under his wing, and in general appears to be a likable Nice Guy... who is also constantly cheating on his wife.
- Brand X: Adventureland is obviously just Kennywood with a generic name slapped onto it.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Bobby and Paulette, the owners of Adventureland, slip into this more often than not
- A Degree in Useless: Brennan tries to get a job in the beginning of the film, but no one hires him. He declares that his literature degree makes him "not even fit for manual labor". Joel is currently a Penn State student, majoring in Russian literature and Slavic languages, and predicts that his careers include "cabby, hot dog vendor, marijuana delivery guy. The world is my oyster".
- Double Standard: Conversed and defied by Brennan in a notable example. When Connell and Em's affair is brought to light, despite the fact Connell is married, its Em that everyone starts to shame and blame for it. Despite being hurt from her doing it, since he really liked Em, Brennan is pissed when Lisa P spouts this view.
- Genre Refugee: Frigo seems to have wandered in from your typical raunchy teen comedy as opposed to the much more realistic, grounded film he's in.
- Good Bad Girl: Lisa P subverts this, twice. At first, it seems that she's playing it straight, until we find out that like Brennan, she's also a virgin. Then we find out that she's the one who spread the gossip that causes the big rift between Em and Brennan and that her views on sexuality and gender roles are rather reactionary.
- Good-Times Montage: Post cookies on the dogems to Just Like Heaven.
- Groin Attack: Brennan's idiot friend, Frigo, is very fond of punching him in the junk. It gets old real quick.
- Informed Attractiveness: Lisa P is desired by all the guys at the park.
- Ivy League for Everyone: Brennan went to Oberlin (a top-tier liberal arts school), and is going to Columbia for graduate school.
- Jerkass: Frigo, mostly because of all his junk-punching.
- Last-Name Basis: Most people refer to James as "Brennan", rather than James.
- Leitmotif: "Rock Me Amadeus" plays all the time in the park.
- Male Gaze:
- At least one long tracking shot of Lisa P.'s butt while Joel gushes about it in the background.
- And James ogling Em in a soaking shirt and swimsuit bottoms.
- Ms. Fanservice: Lisa P. And again Em (perhaps to a lesser degree than Lisa, though). At least, James certainly sees her that way in the pool.
- Never Trust a Trailer: From the ads, you'd think this was just another raunchy sex comedy. Unfortunately, this probably kept away many people who would have enjoyed it for the melancholy dramedy it is.
- Pac Man Fever: Justified that it's an arcade in an amusement park in 1987, so there probably was a game of Donkey Kong in the background making that noise. Incidentally, Kennywood (where the movie was filmed) does continue to operate 1980's arcade games (and many machines even older than that) up to when this film was released.
- Parent with New Paramour: Em resents her father for remarrying so quickly after her mother died, especially since he started dating the other woman while Em's mother was dying of cancer. Her stepmother ultimately forces her father to kick Em out.
- Recycled In Space: It's Garden State... in Pittsburgh.
- Rouge Angles of Satin: "Satin Lives". Em attributes it to "One of those textile worshipping cults, no doubt."
- Also, there's a ride that's inexplicably called The Flying Dutchman, inexplicably spelled "The Flighing Dutchman."
- Running Gag: Frigo hitting James in the groin. James does get his revenge at the end, though.
- Souvenir Land: The main setting and source of the title.