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The Land of Opportunity

The Land of Opportunity (photo)

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To college students graduating into the nightmare of the current job market, the floating, companionable uncertainty of “Adventureland” must look very agreeable. Greg Mottola’s gentle comedy is set mostly in a Pittsburgh amusement park during the summer of 1987. The hero, James (Jesse Eisenberg), was expecting to spend the season traveling around Europe. But money troubles at home make it impossible for his parents (hangdog Jack Gilpin and Wendie Malick, with her bruised brightness) to finance the trip they’ve promised him. Even his place at Columbia Journalism School in the fall is uncertain.

Mottola, whose last film was the mostly marvelous teen comedy “Superbad,” has a knack for capturing the way time stretches out in post-college limbo, and for the camaraderie to be found in lousy summer jobs, the sense that you and your coworkers are all in this bitch together. James befriends Joel (Martin Starr), a lanky, awkward student whose specialty is Russian lit but whose eyeglasses might have belonged to James Joyce, and Connell (Ryan Reynolds) a would-be musician who works as the park’s maintenance man when he’s not talking up his plans of moving to L.A. or pursuing the young girl who’ll be his summer affair.

Mottola is too compassionate a director to deride his characters for their pretensions and failings. Reynolds, who has always seemed the definition of callow, here shows an adult awareness in his baby features. And Starr’s Joel is such a fundamentally decent guy that he achieves a kind of gangling dignity. Mottola is kind, too, to Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as the park’s married managers, such a pair of perfectly matched oddballs that you can imagine them happily finishing each other’s sentences when they’re 80. And his benevolence extends to the resident hottie (Margarita Levieva) — you believe her when she asks James to take her out because she’d like to be with a nice guy for a change. And when she doesn’t get one of James’ references, Mottola is smart enough to put the joke on the guy showing off his book collection rather than the girl asking, huh?

Skinny and shaggy-haired, and with a nose that might make him Paul Westerberg’s runt brother, James is the kind of terribly self-conscious guy who seems to have formed his ideas of what girls find charming from Woody Allen movies. He’s a post-feminist kid who sees male behavior divided into two possibilities: his own kind of shambling sincerity (he insists on telling girls he’s just had his heart broken, or that he’s a virgin) or the kind of macho cool that he can’t affect and which repulses him.

04012009_adventureland2.jpgIn some basic way, we feel less for James than we do for Kristin Stewart as Em, the co-worker whose courtship dance with James provides the heart of the movie. Based on “Adventureland” and “Twilight,” Stewart might not have a huge range, but there’s something very satisfying about the tough fuck-you set of her features here. Because she suffers no fools elsewhere, we can be sure that Em’s tenderness towards James is genuine. (Mottola sticks Stewart with one bummer of a scene in which she publicly humiliates her stepmother. It’s too cruel: for a moment the movie veers into the idiot “grown-ups suck” ethos of John Hughes movies.) Stewart makes Em the kind of cool girl you’re happy to have in your gang.

“Adventureland” may be a letdown to the people looking for Mottola to repeat the raunchy boisterousness of “Superbad.” At times, it could use some of that dirt. I’ve already heard the quiet, observational tone of “Adventureland” used to deride “Superbad” as just another dumb teen-boy comedy. That isn’t just a drag — it suggests the kind of insularity “Adventureland” finally escapes.

There’s integrity in the way Mottola stays true to James’ tentative rhythms. But Eisenberg is such a recessive presence that the movie lacks dramatic tension. Eisenberg doesn’t have a false moment, and by the end of the movie, you’re on James’ side. But there’s a measure of perversity in staying true to a character who makes you want to shake him for so long, particularly because Mottola has succeeded in making the amusement park such an accepting place that the logical thing would be for James to flower. No movie I know has ever really gotten the particular way that the barriers of class and cliques fall down after high school and college. (The irony in this one is that the Reagan years are throwing those barriers back up stronger than ever.) Thrown together at Adventureland, this crew is happy hanging out after work grousing and drinking, or sneaking in pot cookies during a shift, or listening to the bands they feel cool for knowing. (It’s the time of The Replacements and Hüsker Dü, but James and Em have caught on to The Velvet Underground and Big Star, as well.)

What carries “Adventureland” beyond its frustrating hero is that it has the sweet, stoned good-naturedness of a quotidian idyll. Mottola is smart enough not to depict the world waiting beyond the park as all phoniness and corruption. This is what the mumblecore kids might be capable of if they had any notion of making movies for an audience.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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