This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
It is a truth of twentysomethings that if you have a crappy summer job with other twentysomethings, the way to take your mind off work is daydreaming of sex with your workmates. You are trapped there together eight or 10 hours a day for three months, right, so what else is there to make you dance to unheard melodies?
Take James. Here he is all set to move to New York, and his dad loses his job and he’s forced to take a job at a shabby Pittsburgh amusement park. All of the rides look secondhand, all of the games are rigged, and all of the prizes look like surplus. Your job is to encourage customers even more luckless than you are to throw baseballs at targets that are glued down, while inflamed with hopes of taking home a Big Ass Panda. That’s what Bobby the owner calls them when he instructs you, “Nobody ever wins a Big Ass Panda.”
Director Greg Mottola, who made the rather wonderful “Superbad,” is back now with a sweeter story, more quietly funny, again about a hero who believes he may be a virgin outstaying his shelf life. Jesse Eisenberg, from “The Squid and the Whale,” plays James, who has a degree in Renaissance studies. (The movie is set in the late 1980s and there may still be a few jobs around.) He’s out of his element at Adventureland; Bobby has to coach him to fake enthusiasm when he announces the horse-race game, where you advance your horse by rolling balls into holes. His performance reminded me uncannily of my last visit to Dave & Buster’s.
Most of the male employees in the park lust for Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva), whose Adventureland T-shirt unfortunately advertises Rides*Rides*Rides. James is much more interested in Em (Kristen Stewart), who is quieter and deeper (Games*Games*Games). She’s smart, quirky, seems more grown-up than the others. A quick rapport springs up, despite her edge on James in sexual experience. She thinks he’s kinda sweet. They talk about subjects that require more than one sentence.