Adventureland (2009)

Rated R. Our Rating: V-1 ; L-4 1; S/N-5. Length: 1 hour 47 min.

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman
who had been caught in adultery; and making
her stand before all of them…
Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman,
where are they? Has no one condemned you?’
She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, ‘Neither
do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now
on do not sin again.
John 8:3-11

Jesse is drawn to Em, a coworker at Adventureland.
2009 Miramax Films

This romance story takes place during the summer of 1987 in a Pittsburgh amusement park known in the film as Adventureland (I enjoyed the park scenes because the film was shot at Kennywood, where once a summer we would take our five children during “Pepsi Day,” when the rides were just ten cents.). It was during the latter Reagan years when an economic downturn disrupted the plans of so many. Jesse Eisenberg (James Brennan), a recent college grad and aspiring travel writer, had hoped to vacation in Europe before moving on the grad school at Columbia University, but when his heavy drinking father loses his job, he is forced to find the only work available, at the local amusement park. Unless he can save enough during the summer, his plan to enter Columbia also will have to be cancelled.

Jesse soon learns that Adventureland, operated by the goofy Bobby (Bill Hader) and Paulette) Kristen Wiig, has a cast system. At the bottom are the intellectuals assigned to be Game Operators, whereas the good looking and sexy get to be Rider Operators. Quickly sizing him up, Bobby and Paulette assign him to be a Game Operator. Nerdish Joel (Martin Starr) shows him the ropes, one important instruction being Bobby’s insistance that no player should ever be awarded the top prize of the expensive overstuffed animal, Big Ass Panda. Guess what happens when Jesse serves his first customer.

Although sexy Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva) is regarded by the panting young studs as being at the top of the Game Rider caste, it is another member who attracts Jesse, Em (Kristen Stewart). She takes a liking to him also, but unfortunately is enmeshed in an unsavory relationship with the chief maintenance man Connell (Ryan Reynolds). He wears a wedding band, but this has not hindered him from basking in the romantic ardor of the park’s female employees, and of Em in particular. Of course, matters quickly spiral out of control when their tawdry affair is exposed, and, despite her remorse, Jesse cannot forgive her (even though he had dated Lisa P.)

The one scene that saves this otherwise undistinguished romantic film is the one of grace in which, after the summer is over, Jesse searches for Em and seeks a reconciliation. When she puts herself down as unworthy, he declare that “I see you a little different than you see yourself…” Not a great film, but one that young adults might enjoy and discuss issues of relationship and perceptions. It’s R rating, due to so much drug usage and sexual references, will make this a difficult, if not impossible one for youth groups.

For Reflection/Discussion

1. How is the world of Adventureland like most societies with its caste system, or pecking order? Why do you think the intellectuals or geeks always seem to be at the bottom? Compare this to films set in a college or high school setting.

2. What does Lisa P. apparently think she has to offer the world? And how does she show this? How is this like idolatry—and how do such idols let us down?

3. How, by the end of the film, do the characters show growth in maturity? Connell? Em? Jessie? Anyone else?

4. How is Jesse’s view of Em similar to that of Jesus’ in regard to the woman brought before him in John 8? How is this central to the way in which he, and God, “see” us? Do you think this is central to understanding the nature of “amazing grace” ?