Writer-director Greg Mottola - whose "Adventureland" is based on his summer working at the eponymous Farmingdale amusement park - has a musician's ear for the sophomoric, self-importantly insecure assertions of the overeducated post-adolescent. And a surgical skill at placing them in his very affectionate comedy.
"I don't actually celebrate the Fourth," says recent college graduate James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), as his co-workers watch the fireworks. "I celebrate Bastille Day." He drops Dickens into a conversation with the hottest girl at the park, and when he takes her out to dinner, "wonders" about the fondue.
James is an annoyance, but he's also at the center of a finely tuned portrait of a time, a place and a period in one's life when your own little ad hoc community can seem like the center of the universe. In "Adventureland," that time is 1987, the place is Pittsburgh, and the community James has been thrust into comprises a not-so-eccentric collection of thrill-ride operators, ringtoss shills and corn-dog enthusiasts, all hired by the pragmatic Paulette and Bobby ( Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader), who will take on anyone they can get.
This includes the pipe-smoking Russian lit specialist Joel (Martin Starr), the curvaceous Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva) and the self-consciously beautiful Em ( Kristen Stewart), who sparks with James even while sleeping with the park's married repairman, Connell ( Ryan Reynolds). In some ways, "Adventureland" smacks of the old "let's put on a show!" musicals, but far more real and dark and funny (the score is actually a hit-CD's worth of period pop).
Mottola is best known now for having directed, sort of, the adolescent laugh-fest "Superbad"; once upon a time, he made "The Daytrippers." "Adventureland" may be targeted at teens, but it's a sophisticated film that just happens to be about unformed people and their raw emotions.
PLOT When failing family finances nix his post-grad trip to Europe, an overeducated nebbish gets summer-schooled at a funky Pittsburgh amusement park.
CAST Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds, Martin Starr.
PLAYING AT Area theaters. Find showtimes and tickets .
BOTTOM LINE Wonderful coming-of-age story with a terrific Stewart, the usual from Eisenberg and a sophistication that will be lost on the director's base.