After Superbad and several episodes of Undeclared, director Greg Mottola seems dead set on using this growing-up-is-hard-to-do parable to cement his reputation as the screen's bar of postadolescent angst. If this self-scripted effort isn't as consistently funny as his single-minded previous feature, Adventureland still intriguingly tweaks the horndog-comedy genre. Our hero (Eisenberg) is too self-serious and too shy to caddishly make a move; the object of his affection (Stewart) is simultaneously too worldly to pity him and too confused to break out of her own lifestyle rut. It's a further corrective to the American Pie movies, in which everyone always scores in the end, and the quicksilver Eisenberg (more plausible as a real-world presence than Michael Cera) seems to import some of the pain he brought to The Squid and the Whale. Factor in an Apartment-style love triangle involving an overgrown prom king (Ryan Reynolds), and it's clear that the director has something more bittersweet in mind.
Of course, Adventureland is also a foursquare laughfest, with much of the movie aiming to do for amusement parks what Caddyshack did for golf courses (first gaming-booth rule: no one wins a giant panda, ever). But what gives the movie an added edge is its feeling for place: This second-tier tourist attraction isn't a nonstop summer party, but a mortifying way station for America's future writers and Gogol scholars. (Any scene involving Martin Starr's self-described "pragmatic nihilist" gets a laugh even before he speaks.) Mottola hasn't concocted the funniest summer comedy ever, but he may have given us one of the wisest. Ben Kenigsberg