It’s the end of the college semester, and James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) is opening up to his girlfriend, claiming that he is starting to fall for her. During an “end of the year” party, the girlfriend breaks up with him (they had only been going out for 11 days). James is heartbroken, but his friends Eric and Brad cheer him up by reminding him about their big summer Europe trip. Later on, James is at lunch with his parents when he asks him for more money for the trip; James’s dad reveals that he took a smaller job, and that he is making less money now. So basically, there’s no way James can afford this trip, since he’s also trying to save money so he can go to grad school and get an apartment in New York with Eric. Eric and Brad are bummed James can’t come to Europe anymore, but Eric cheers him up again by giving a sack full of joints to last him the summer. He gives the joints to James (and even smokes one) with both of their parents clearly watching.
Suddenly desperate, James begins looking for a summer job. After many failed interviews, he stumbles upon Adventureland, a local amusement park where his immature old friend Tommy Frigo works; the manager Bobby (Bill Hader) and wife Paulette (Kristen Wiig) give James a job on the spot without even looking at his resume. Despite wanting to work on the rides, James automatically gets put to work in game booths since, according to Bobby, he looks like a “games man”. Joel (Martin Starr) gives James a tour around the park. He tells him about the ridiculous work policies and shows him how most of the park’s games are rigged for example, there’s a game where you have to knock the hats off a mannequin by throwing balls at it. Problem is, half of the hats are glued onto the mannequins. They also have dented basketball hoops, the “Win a Goldfish” game even though half of the fish are already dead, etc. Another annoying work factor that James seems to notice is how many times the park plays “Amadeus”. He constantly jokes that they play this song 20 times a day.
During his first day, a customer tries to con James while he’s working the ring toss booth. Even though James clearly saw the man’s kid climb over and put a ring onto a bottle, the man demands his kid gets the top prize: one of those humongous stuffed pandas. When the man threatens James at knifepoint, another games worker Em Lewin (Kristen Stewart) steps in and ends up giving the man a panda. James panics since he thinks he’s gonna get fired (all the other employees told him to NEVER give out the biggest prizes), but Em tells him not to worry since he could’ve gotten stabbed. That night, after the park closes, all the employees smoke outside the park and bullshit about the day. Em offers James a ride home, who immediately says yes to avoid a ride with Frigo (who makes crude remarks and punches James in the nuts the whole movie). After James and Em smoke a joint, James thanks her for the ride and leaves. Afterwards, Em pulls into a local bar for reasons unknown.
The next day, Joel shows happy panic when telling James that Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva) is working at Adventureland again. Basically, Lisa P. is the gorgeous, “most popular” girl working at the park. She works in rides with her friend Kelly; they both constantly dance sexually in front of their ride to lure customers in. She constantly complains that her rich parents don’t give her enough money and she is almost forced to work here as the story progresses, we learn that majority of the people working in Adventureland have similar backgrounds. Somewhere during this, James is introduced to Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds), the park’s maintenance man. He has a “cool” older-guy persona and has even played in a band with Lou Reed. That night, Em throws a party at her parent’s house. After some drinking and a few joints, James and Em go for a swim in her pool; they flirt a little before Em gets out James waits a little bit to get out because he obviously has a boner. James and Em talk more, where it’s revealed that Em hates her wig wearing step-mother. After the party ends, an alone Em calls Mike to come over. This is where we learn Em has been fooling around with the already married Mike. James (still oblivious to Em and Mike’s secret) takes the next few days to get closer to Em. One night, they hang out at the same bar Em was at earlier in the movie. Through his talks about how he got his heart broken a month earlier (the 11-day relationship), Em learns James is still a virgin. It’s also revealed that Em is only home for the summer, since she goes to NYU. During this time, Mike walks in with his wife the awkward tension between him and Em is completely obvious. Mike’s band always plays at this bar, hence the reason why Em was here earlier. James and Em leave the bar early; before going home, they park underneath the bridge to smoke a joint. Instead, James makes a move and they kiss.
Over the next few days, James spends most of his work time getting closer to Em. This prompts James to admit to Mike that he’s falling in love with Em. Later, Mike and Em have another “encounter”, where he takes her to his mom’s basement to get drunk. Here, Mike tells Em what James told him. Some time later, James and Em go to a club with Joel and Em’s friend Sue (Paige Howard aka Ron Howard’s daughter). Joel and Sue end up getting hammered and make out in the backseat of Em’s car. Em admits to James that there’s a lot of shit in her life right now and asks him if they can “take it slow”. James reluctantly agrees. Meanwhile, Joel tries to follow up with Sue the day after. He gives her a book that he enjoyed unfortunately, Sue rejects Joel’s friendship for the crappy reason that she is Catholic, and Joel is Jewish. When Em (who is also Jewish) learns of this, she angrily confronts Sue in front of everyone, claiming she doesn’t deserve Joel and that they’re no longer friends.
James, now unsure about his relationship with Em, starts flirting with Lisa P. As they flirt, James asks to push a button on the ride Lisa works on this ends up breaking the ride, and Mike is called in to fix the catastrophe James made. James then asks Mike if he should ask Lisa out; Mike tells him yes (obviously thinking about his status with Em). James takes Lisa out to dinner, but clearly wants it to be known that nobody should know about this date; this doesn’t go well once Frigo shows up outside the restaurant, wanting to see if James actually asked Lisa out. At the end of the date, James and Lisa smoke a joint and kiss. James comes home to find out that he missed a call from Em, making him feel guiltier about his kiss. James learns that Em wanted to apologize about the “taking it slow” talk. After this, their relationship gets back on track.
One night, James Em and Joel decide to eat weed cookies at work. James tries getting away with only eating half, but is forced to eat the whole thing when Bobby and Paulette ask what they’re eating. The rest of the night is a hilarious, weed-fueled trip for the three of them. After a ride on the bumper cars, James goes back to work at his games booth, the Horse Race game. Bobby and Paulette, who notice the gibberish comments James makes to the customers, ask him if he’s high. Paulette points out that James’s eyes are bloodshot, and asks him if he’s been crying. Bobby eventually takes over James’s booth and calls the next round of horse races (which is hysterical) while Paulette watches on saying “This is how we met.” Meanwhile, James joins Em and Joel at the game with the mannequins wearing the hats. The three (who are all still very high) goof off and knock one of the mannequins down. One of the customers realizes the game is rigged, jumps into the booth, and punches the giggling Joel. When he threatens to hurt Em, James steps in and punches the customer. The customer’s friend chases James out of the booth; fortunately, Bobby comes to James’s aid and threatens the customer with an aluminum bat. A second later, Bobby calmly goes back to work as if nothing happened.
The next day, James is shocked to learn that Joel quit after he was punched. After talking with Joel, James gains the courage to tell Em about his date (and kiss) with Lisa. Em is obviously stunned, but also thanks him for actually telling her. That night, Em talks with Mike in his mom’s basement - Em tells Mike that she can’t see him anymore because she’s falling for James. Meanwhile, James learns through people about the sexual relationship Em and Mike have. When he calls Em’s house looking for her, her parents say that Em told them she was going to hang out with James tonight. Now very worried, James and Frigo drive over to Mike’s mothers house (Lisa told James about the rumor that Mike would take girls to his mom’s basement to get them drunk and fool around). Sure enough, they pull up just as Em is walking out of the house crying. James discovers the truth, calls himself an idiot for trusting Em, and leaves her there standing in the street.
The next day at work, James tells Lisa about Em and Mike. James and Lisa eventually go on another date, where James tells Lisa to keep the “Em situation” a secret. She agrees. However, Em goes to work the next day to find that everyone now knows about her and Mike. After the nasty “slut” looks becomes enough, Em gets extremely upset and quits on the spot. She goes home that night and pours herself a drink in front of her parents’ friends. Em starts talking about how things were better before her step-mother showed up. The furious step-mother tries taking Em’s drink away from her; Em tries pulling her step-mother’s wig off in retaliation. Em’s dad takes Em into the backyard, asking what’s wrong with her.
After James hears that Em quit, he learns that Lisa told one friend, which eventually spread until everyone knew. A furious James goes on a drinking binge and eventually starts driving around the city drunk and high. He barely misses getting into a car accident, but ends up slamming into a tree. The next morning, he wakes up to his mom banging on the car door. Somehow, he was able to drive back to his parents’ house; however, the front of the car is destroyed and there’s a plant lodged in the front right tire. His furious parents learn he was drinking, and he’s forced to use ALL of his earned money to fix the car. In a glimmer of hope for James, his college friends finally return from their European vacation. However, James’s hopes are shattered when Eric reveals to him that he can’t move to New York anymore since he got accepted into the Harvard business program.
During the final week of summer (before Adventureland closes for winter renovations), James thanks Bobby and Paulette for the summer job. Bobby asks if James will be back to work next summer, which James just replies again, “Well, thanks for the job opportunity anyway.” James hangs out with Frigo and Joel, asking what to do now. Joel tells a story about how they screwed up Herbert Melville’s (author of Moby Dick) obituary by calling him “Henry” Melville. James claims that he would be honored if he was Melville, and realizes what he has to do. Some time later, Em has moved back to New York (remember that she goes to school at NYU?). During a rainy night, Em sees James rolling through the city James has decided to live out his dream and move to New York anyway. Em invites James up to her place and asks him what he’s going to do now James just wants to find a job so he can make some money, then see where it goes from there. When drying his rainy clothes, Em offers James her old work shirt to wear, which he turns down saying “I never want to see that fucking shirt again.” The two end up share a passionate kiss, and they realize how much they love each other.
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