When James (Eisenberg) is forced to take a summer job in a ramshackle Pittsburgh theme park, he fears the worst. But the friendships he makes, the lessons he will come to learn, and especially a bumpy romance with remote fellow worker Emily (Stewart) will ultimately end up becoming memories for life.
For those (of-a-certain- age) having trouble discerning halcyon days amid the pot-bellied pop-ruins dug-up for comeback tours, or those seeking a sense of what the DayGlo decade was really like at ground level, or even those simply chasing a quantum of solace after the hurly-burly of summer, help is at hand. Greg Mottola’s softly spoken, semi-autobiographical teen romance is a charming ’80s tale of first love and first paycheques.
It’s a deceptively simple set-up: when a boy’s pre-college Euro-trip dream flounders with his dad’s unemployment, he has to take a summer job at a rusting theme park. There he’ll make friends, fall in love, get it all wrong, and just about come-of-age (whatever that means). Only later he realises they’re the best days of his life.
Jesse Eisenberg is a perfect fit. The listless, poetically minded James is all elbows and shoulder blades, slow on the uptake but with an easy attractiveness about him that makes sense of the incoming romance. When he espies offbeat Em (Kristen Stewart), cool enough to be “on rides” as he languishes in the doldrums of sideshow hawking, it is less meet-cute than meet-awkward. Stewart, free from the burden of playing cipher to the simpering hearts of a trillion Twihards, proves a gift for the genuine in a pretty girl growing up off-balance: she’s flinty and fragile, utterly baffling to the uninitiated and entirely real.
Their film is conditioned to downplay — there are next-to-no dick jokes, nor a display-case of ’80s trinkets to give credo to its time zone, but swathes of balmy warmth like a summer evening. The laughs are sweetly mocking: the unbearable stomp of Falco’s Amadeus squawking from the park PA (counterbalanced by the soundtrack’s alternative ’80s vibe: The Replacements rather than Spandau Ballet); the tribulations of getting beyond first base with Material Girl wannabe Lisa P (Margarita Levieva); or that orbiting idiot true of any teen circle who greets buddies by punching them in the bollocks to the battle cry of, “Oooh yaaaa!”
Mottola’s ambitions may appear small, but having injected something telling between the dick jokes of Superbad, he discovers breezy pleasures in the wilting formula of the coming-of-age yarn.
Without recourse to frilly cuffs or a montage to A Flock Of Seagulls greatest hit, it plays the 80s card for something heartfelt.