Almost hidden amid all the action-packed blockbuster film releases typical for this time of year is the poignant, character-driven story of a young college grad's experience working at an amusement park in the 1980's. Here's a look at Adventureland.
With his college degree in hand, James was looking forward to a summer holiday trip across Europe before returning to the academic world at a prestigious graduate school. However, the economic recession of the 1980's changed those plans. Stuck at home in Pittsburgh for the summer, James faces some realities: he has to earn the money to pay for the rest of his education and his prestigious liberal arts degree did not exactly prepare him for the workplace.
Fortunately, he lands a job at "Adventureland," an amusement park that has seen better days.
However, what he thinks is going to be a dead-end job among misfits and slow starters proves to be as much a life-changing experience for James as the Europe trip might have been.
Jesse Eisenberg, co-star of the offbeat 2005 hit The Squid and the Whale, plays James and he believes the 1980's setting makes the Adventureland story oddly relevant today.
"I think the movie has a very current appeal in that now a lot of people are taking jobs that they feel are beneath them because of the recession," he says. "So I think it's probably a very relatable idea."
James not only forges a new circle of friends at the park, he also meets a soul mate of sorts also at a crossroads in her life: Em, played by Kristin Stewart.
"I can definitely relate to her unfulfilled ambition," she says. "I don't have it in me to roll with the structure that goes along with conventional school like university; but I can relate to her on that level."
The young actress became an international star in last year's hit adaptation of the teen romance novel Twilight. For Adventureland she had to understand what life would be like for a woman her age 20 years ago in an era she is too young to remember first-hand.
"Even though we haven't lived it, there are so many movies and remnants from the '80's [that] it's like we're nostalgic for something that we didn't get to experience," she says. "Without the movie being sentimental, it's very fresh."
The writer and director of the film, Greg Mottola, did get to experience it. The script is partly autobiographical, inspired by his own summertime job at a shabby amusement park on New York's Long Island in the 1980's.
"Everyone thinks that it was a more innocent time when they were young, as you grow older; but then I started to look at the world of the 1980's — pre-internet and cell phone and corporate chains everywhere — and it feels like a colonial village. They should be wearing buckles on their hats, it seems so far away for me," he explains. "As a writer it is kind of freeing because you're always trying to figure out what to do with cell phones. 'Why don't they just call them on their cell?' It would solve every story problem.
"But I decided this is going to be a personal film and, for better or worse, base it on my recollection," he adds. "Perhaps it is indulgent, but I wanted to draw on my own memories of the time and place. It's just fun. I could use the music I loved and dress [the cast] in those crazy costumes and stuff like that; but I didn't want it to be a big 'kitch'-fest. We didn't have the budget for that, but I didn't want it just to all be about 'Dynasty' references."
Adventureland also features Ryan Reynolds as the park's veteran mechanic who, summer after summer, has seen his own dreams evaporate. Comic actors Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig play the park managers. Adventureland was shot on location in Pittsburgh at the Pennsylvania city's venerable "Kennywood" amusement park.