Released on April 3, 2009, the film received positive reviews and earned $17.1 million worldwide at the box office. Adventureland was less successful than Greg Mottola's previous film, the 2007 box-office hit Superbad, with a smaller release on 1,862 screens. It was nominated for "Best Ensemble Cast Performance" at the 19th Annual Gotham Independent Film Awards.
In 1987, James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) plans to have a summer vacation in Europe after graduating with a comparative literature degree from Oberlin College and to attend a journalism graduate school at Columbia University when his holidays end. A few days after his graduation, his parents (Wendie Malick and Jack Gilpin) advise him to seek a part-time job rather than going to Europe when they unexpectedly announce that financial problems have taken a toll on them and they would be unable to financially support him.
James gets a job at Adventureland, a local amusement park in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where his childhood friend Tommy Frigo (Matt Bush) works. Assistant manager Bobby (Bill Hader) assigns James to the games area. He meets his co-workers: sarcastic Joel (Martin Starr); Bobby's wife and park manager Paulette (Kristen Wiig); Sue O'Malley (Paige Howard); Mark (Mark Miller); the alluring Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva); and the park's technician, Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds), a part-time musician. Another games worker, Emily "Em" Lewin (Kristen Stewart), saves James from being stabbed by a lying, cheating customer.
With her father and stepmother away, Em throws a party and gets to know James. During the conversation, Em persuades James to join her in the house's swimming pool. After Em leaves the pool, James follows only to jump back into the water in humiliation when Frigo announces to the partygoers that he saw James having an erection while leaving the pool. After the party, Connell, who has been having an affair with Em, comes over to further pursue it.
Later that week, James goes for a drink with Em and she is surprised to learn James has never had sex. They share a first kiss. The following day, James tells Connell about his strong feelings for Em, which Connell reports to her. Em tells James she wants to take things slow due to problems in her life, leaving James confused and upset. Sue drunkenly makes out with Joel, but rejects him the next day, saying her Catholic parents would not allow her to date a Jew. Outraged, Em calls Sue an anti-Semite in front of other staff members in defense of Joel. Lisa P. asks James on a date, but he has mixed feelings because of his relationship with Em. After Connell talks him into going, he accepts Lisa P.'s offer.
After the date, during which Lisa and James kiss, James learns Em had called to say she regrets having rejected his feelings. Joel later sees James and Em walking together and, irritated by the chain of events, quits. James unsuccessfully tries to talk him out of it, and Joel reveals he's angry at James for dating Lisa P. when James is already in love with Em. James tells Em about going out with Lisa P. After hearing of this, Em goes to Connell's mother's home to end their affair. The park's mentally challenged parking attendant, prompted by Tommy, tells James he saw Em and Connell doing "pushups without any pants on" in the back of Connell's car.
James goes to Connell's mother's house, which is where Lisa P. told him Connell takes girls to have sex and sees Em leaving. Shocked to see James, Em becomes tongue-tied. James leaves angrily, and Em cries. James tells Lisa P. about the affair and asks her not to tell anyone, but she tells her friend Kelly. Upon noticing that all the park employees know, Em quits and moves back to New York. A heartbroken James drunkenly crashes his father's car into a tree and passes out. The next morning, his mother angrily wakes him up and tells him he has to pay to repair it with his summer earnings. On top of that, James' friend from Oberlin, Eric (Michael Zegen) who he had initially planned on moving to New York with, calls to let him know that he will not be going to Columbia and instead will be attending Harvard Business School, thus canceling their living arrangements.
Now, without enough money for graduate school or a place to live, James nonetheless heads to New York City with his parents' blessing and waits outside Em's apartment. She is reluctant to talk to him, feeling she has ruined everything. James tells her he sees her in a different way than she sees herself. Touched, Em brings James up to her apartment. James reveals he would rather attend Columbia University next year. He gets out of his wet clothes and finds Em still has an Adventureland shirt. They kiss and begin to take their clothes off. James asks, "Are we doing this?", and Em says, "I think so."Jesse Eisenberg as James Brennan, a recent college graduate who majored in Comparative Literature and Renaissance Studies. He is an aspiring journalist who has to get a summer job so he can afford to go to Columbia University in New York. The only job he can get is in the games at the Adventureland theme park. He is a virgin and occasional marijuana smoker. Throughout his summer working in Adventureland, Brennan develops a relationship with his co-worker, Emily "Em" Lewin.
Kristen Stewart as Emily "Em" Lewin, one of James' Adventureland co-workers and love interest. She has a troubled home life; she hates her stepmother and resents her father for remarrying so soon after her mother's death from cancer. She is a student at NYU. She doesn't need to work, as her father is a rich lawyer, but she works in the games at the theme park to get out of the house. She is secretly having an affair with the park's maintenance man, Mike Connell, but eventually calls it off, and quits Adventureland after her affair becomes public knowledge.
Ryan Reynolds as Mike Connell, the park's maintenance man, married to a woman named Ronnie. He is also a part-time musician who claims to have jammed with Lou Reed. Through slips in his musical knowledge, it becomes apparent to James that this is not true. He has cheated on his wife with different girls and, by the beginning of the story, with Em.
Martin Starr as Joel, one of James' co-workers at the games in Adventureland and James' friend in the summer. A college graduate in Russian literature and Slavic languages, a degree which he claims will get him a job as a "cabbie, hot dog vendor," or "marijuana delivery guy." He eventually quits the park after being attacked by a disgruntled customer and leaves Pittsburgh to head for an undisclosed location. He enjoys smoking a pipe, although he calls it a "revolting affectation."
Matt Bush as Tommy Frigo, James' childhood best friend; though they aren't good friends any more, James still manages to tolerate Frigo's immaturity and cruelty. Frigo constantly teases James and hits him in the testicles, repeatedly, often bringing him to his knees in pain. He even goes so far as to blackmail James about his date with Lisa P. At the end of the film, James hits Frigo in the testicles first for once before heading off to New York, finally getting his revenge.
Margarita Levieva as Lisa P., one of the rides operators at the Adventureland park. A seductive girl to whom all the park's employees are attracted. Her father was injured and is now unable to work, and she bonds with James after he shows some sympathy for her. She invites James out on a date, but he leaves her to go back with Em. She eventually tells her friends at the park that Em is having an affair with Connell, a secret she told James she would not reveal.
Bill Hader as Bobby, the eccentric assistant manager of Adventureland. He is extremely intolerant of people who litter but is very supportive of his employees and caring for his wife.
Kristen Wiig as Paulette, Bobby's wife and manager of Adventureland. She is often as eccentric as her husband but is much more quiet.
Mary Birdsong as Francy, Em's stepmother. She married Em's father shortly after the death of Em's mother. After her first divorce, she lost her hair from the stress of a nervous breakdown and wears a wig. Em says that if she were not a "status-obsessed witch", she might feel bad for her.
Josh Pais as Mr. Lewin, Em's father and Francy's husband. He met Francy at temple while his first wife was slowly dying in the hospital. He married Francy, soon after Em's mother died.
Jack Gilpin as Bill Brennan, James' father. He loses his job and transfers to a different office. He is an alcoholic, but he tries to hide his drinking from his family. James finds a bottle of scotch underneath his dad's car seat, and he drinks the bottle while driving and crashes into his neighbor's tree. He doesn't tell his mother that the bottle belonged to his father.
Wendie Malick as Mrs. Brennan, James' mother. She is the one that lets James know they can't help them pay for his trip for graduate school. She supplies the discipline of the two parents. However at the end of the film, she decides to let James go off to New York City.
Adventureland was filmed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from October 2007 to November 2007, with most scenes shot in Kennywood, a historic amusement park in nearby West Mifflin, Pennsylvania. The park was "heavily" altered to look run-down. The theme park from the film is based on the Farmingdale, New York amusement park Adventureland where Mottola once worked in the 1980s. The scenes of the family home were filmed in a neighborhood named Fox Ridge located in the town of McCandless, a suburb still within Allegheny County and approximately 12 miles north of the city of Pittsburgh. Other scenes were shot in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, and the airport area of Moon Township such as the Stardust Lounge.
The story takes place during the summer, but since it was shot in the winter months in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, crews had to often hide snowfall. In some instances, during indoor takes, extras were paid to stand outside surrounding the windows and doors to block the snow falling behind the actors. Internet star iJustine makes an uncredited cameo appearance as she was already in Kennywood when filming started.
The film premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and went on general release on April 3, 2009. The film was also screened at the 2009 Edinburgh International Film Festival.
Adventureland received positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an 89% "Certified Fresh" rating, based on 210 reviews, with an average rating of 7.3/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Full of humor and nostalgia, Adventureland is a sweet, insightful coming-of-age comedy that will resonate with teens and adults alike". On Metacritic, the film has a score of 76 out of 100, based on 34 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
In its first week at the box office, Adventureland opened moderately wide in only 1,862 screens grossing $5.7 million ranking #6 at the box office. Despite opening up in fourteen more screens in its second week Adventureland only took in $3.4 million, falling to #9 at the box office. The film concluded its U.S. domestic run on May 28, 2009 with a gross of $16,044,025 and a total international gross of $17,164,377
The film was nominated for the Gotham Independent Film Awards "Best Ensemble Cast", scheduled in New York City on November 30, 2009.
Adventureland was the winner of High Times magazine's 2009 Stoner Movie of the Year Award. Kristen Stewart also received High Times' 2009 Stonette of the Year Award, due in part to her performance in the film.
Jesse Eisenberg was nominated for Favorite Male Breakthrough Performance at the Teen Choice Awards for his performance and also for his work in Zombieland.
The film was released August 25, 2009 on DVD and Blu-ray with unrated bonus features.
A total of 41 songs were licensed for use in the film. The soundtrack includes 14 songs and was released on April 1, 2009 by Hollywood Records. The songs included are mostly from the 1980s, to fit with the setting of the film, with several tracks from the late 1960s and early 1970s, most notably by The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, the New York Dolls and cult darlings Big Star. The '80s bands represent a cross section of alternative bands from the time including Hüsker Dü, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Nick Lowe, The Cure, The Replacements, and Crowded House.
The film maintains a notable reverence for Lou Reed, who is idolized by the main character, featured on T-shirts and posters of other cast members and has likewise elevated the status of the playground mechanic stemming from a rumored jam session with the artist. Earlier versions of the script replaced Lou Reed with singer-songwriter Neil Young as the musician Ryan Reynolds's character had played with, and used Young's songs "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" and "Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)" in key scenes.