The recent rash of quirky teenage romantic comedies continues with Adventureland, yet another skewed coming-of-age story, this time concerning the comical trials of a group of college kids working at a run-down Pittsburgh theme park in the summer of 1987.

On the face of it, Adventureland isn’t much of an advance on writer and director Greg Mottola’s last film Superbad; scattergun stories of slack-jawed youths galloping around colourful locations in search of something to kill the time. But where that raucous comedy was made under the auspices of uber-producer Judd Apatow, Adventureland is a sweeter, more sincere film about first loves and uncertain futures, based on the director’s own experiences.

Awkward, nerdish and virginal, recent college graduate James (Jesse Eisenberg) thought he’d be heading off to “sexually permissive” Europe for the summer but his parent’s Reganomic reality-check has forced him to go looking for a summer job before he can go on to complete his pricey education. Having exhausted all other avenues, James pitches up at the titular Adventureland to operate the rigged carnival games; “the work of pathetic lazy morons”, as his new best friend Joel (Martin Starr) puts it.

The first day on the job, James meets and falls for Em (Kristen Stewart), a cynical slacker with a hang-em-all mentality and mild domestic problems. The rest of James’ co-workers might be comedy stereotypes, but they are well-written and convincingly played. Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are the dim-witted, married park managers Bobby and Paulette, Margarita Levieva is the sassy other-girl Lisa P and Matt Bush plays James’ obnoxious neighbourhood friend Frigo. The only duff note is struck by Ryan Reynolds as the park handyman Connell, who seems too old and mannered for the role, a married lothario with dreams of rock stardom.

Rather than attempt to re-invent the coming-of-age story, Adventureland is a demonstration of what the genre looks like when filtered through a new sieve. Mottola has a keen ear for dialogue and an all-embracing sense of humour that finds room for visual puns, spiky banter, bodily embarrassments and gangly slapstick. Eisenberg does well as Mottola’s alter-ego, convincingly over-intellectualising everything with inelegant couplets of poetry or allusions to Russian literature. Opposite him, Kirsten Stewart shows, as she did in Twilight, that she can play listless and cool without strain, even if sometimes her performance comes across as an extended photographic tutorial in lip-biting and coy glances than what you might call acting.

Adventureland, like all the other quirky indie teenage films that have gone before it this year, attempts to mix ribald humour with bittersweet observation but never really comes down on one side or the other. The funny is funny, but rarely to the point of laughing out loud. The characters go through the standardised coming-of-age process but the lessons they learn, while engaging and empathic, don’t gather enough force to burrow under the skin. The almost forty songs on the potent period soundtrack, everything from Falco to Judas Priest to The Replacements, bring constant aural entertainment even if the film at times seems to be merely going through the paces.

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