Adventureland

Movie Information

The Story: A recent college grad is forced to take on a menial summer job at a cheesy amusement park in order to help afford grad school. The Lowdown: A deftly funny, surprisingly astute, often heartfelt look at the complicated lives of those coming-of-age.
Score:

Genre: Coming-of-Age Comedy
Director: Greg Mottola (Superbad)
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Martin Starr, Ryan Reynolds, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig
Rated: R

For anyone looking for a rehash of director Greg Mottola’s last film, Superbad (2007), don’t expect to find it in the filmmaker’s latest movie, Adventureland. Despite trailers attempting to convince the moviegoing public of the contrary, Adventureland is, in many ways, the anti-Superbad.

Sure, the two films have commonalities. They’re both stories about the awkward times before adult maturity, they both trade in recreational drug use and the sexual proclivities of young adults, but that’s where the comparisons end. Where Superbad is a movie fully ensconced in the tradition of raunchy teen-sex comedies, Adventureland is a much more subdued brand of comedy, and might be the first coming-of-age story made for adults.

Mottola tweaks many of the tropes and expectations involved in these types of movies. For starters, Mottola has centered the story around twentysomethings (all thankfully played by twentysomethings), an idea that’s especially refreshing in an era of cinema so intent on pleasing the all-important teenage demographic. While the nebbishy, awkward, virginal main character of James (Jesse Eisenberg, The Squid and the Whale) is a cliché at this point in the history of cinema, he’s never simply defined by these traits. He’s more a character in search of some sort of enlightenment or romance than just another teen out to lose his virginity, an aspect that only rarely rears its head. It’s a film about the often-frightening aimlessness of life, the awkwardness of growing into adulthood, and the way plans and goals are wont to change—all handled in an intimate and caring way.

The story arc itself is simple; it’s the characters and interpersonal relationships developed from within that help the film stand out. Set in 1987, James is a recent college grad with hopes of heading off to Europe for the summer to embark on some sort of unknown “revelatory” experience before enrolling in grad school at Columbia. But soon after graduation, he learns that his father (Jack Gilpin, 21) is in a bit of a financial bind. So instead of heading abroad, James winds up reluctantly stuck in Pittsburgh (“People in Pittsburgh don’t like me. I read poetry for fun sometimes.”) and is forced to get a summer job at a skuzzy theme park named Adventureland.

From here, the film becomes the story of the subtly complicated, often intertwined relationships, the desires and dreams of James and his co-workers: the nerdy, Jewish (or “existential pagan,” to be exact) and sweet tempered Joel (Martin Starr, Superbad); Connell (Ryan Reynolds), the thirtysomething-year-old handyman who’s one-time claim to fame was playing with Lou Reed; and most importantly, James’ romance with Em (Kristen Stewart, Twilight).

On paper, the plot is nothing spectacular, and the filmmaking isn’t going to set the world ablaze; instead what gives the film life is Mottola’s writing. As a writer, Mottola is closer to Woody Allen than Judd Apatow or Seth Rogen or whatever other comedic talent is a hot commodity right now. It’s no surprise that in a recent interview, Mottola named Allen’s Manhattan (1979) as one of his five favorite films of all time, since Adventureland carries the same sense of romantic idealism and how to reconcile that within a world which doesn’t cater to such a model.

There’s a passion and intimacy in this effort that didn’t exist in Superbad (which, granted, Mottola didn’t write), and a maturity on full display here throughout that didn’t spring up until the end of Superbad. The director has an obvious love for his characters and the ‘80s era (the film’s soundtrack—consisting of luminaries such as The Replacements and Hüsker Dü, among others—captures the feel of the ‘80s better than the generic soundtrack-by-committee feel of Zach Snyder’s Watchmen (2009) ever dreamt of). And while the film is occasionally sentimental, it’s tastefully accomplished. For whatever nostalgia Mottola has placed in the ‘80s, he never forgets to remind the audience that this was also the decade that put Reagan in office, Poison on MTV and “Rock Me Amadeus” on the radio.

None of this means that Adventureland is a perfect film. There are occasions when the comedy verges on becoming too broad and doesn’t match the tone of the film, and the rain-soaked climax is a bit much (though it eventually evolves into a sweeter moment that’s hard to dismiss). But ultimately, this is a sweet-natured and amiably tempered film, something that’s too often missing from mainstream cinema. Rated R for language, drug use and sexual references.

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5 thoughts on “Adventureland

  1. Tonberry

    Fantastic review, that sums up everything I thought about this film. I admit that when I went in to go see it, I was expecting “Superbad: the Theme Park” but was pleasantly surprised by “Adventureland’s” maturity and sweetness. And when I say sweetness, its in the way this emotional journey is very well balanced, not going overly sentimental nor does it ever feel forced. In recent memory, only “Slumdog Millionaire” achieved walking across this very tight rope (though “Millionaire” has a greater emotional pay off.)

    I just love how “Adevntureland” is so subtle and charming. It’s pleasant to see a ‘comedy’ that isn’t in your face, slapping you around, asking if its funny or demanding to gross you out (*cough*Miss March*cough*) I know you and Ken get to see a lot more movies than I do, but “Adventureland” is way, far and beyond the best thing to come out from everything else I’ve seen so far this year.

  2. T_REX

    I went with a group of 6 friends and I was the only one that was bored most of the time.
    Expectations can be a catalyst when you see films and I was in the mood for a laugh out loud riot, so maybe that is why I didn’t like the movie.

    Is it just me or is anyone else sick of the “quiet/poetic/artistic/ nerd does good” character?

  3. Justin Souther

    And when I say sweetness, its in the way this emotional journey is very well balanced, not going overly sentimental nor does it ever feel forced.

    Since the movie is apparently at least a little autobiographical, it’s obviously a bit nostalgic and sentimental. But I think what makes it work to a certain extent is the fact that nothing in the movie is black and white, the relationships and what sprouts out of them are always shades of gray, not to mention very human.

    I know you and Ken get to see a lot more movies than I do, but “Adventureland” is way, far and beyond the best thing to come out from everything else I’ve seen so far this year.

    Well, compared to what came out this year (with the apparent exception of Sunshine Cleaning which I personally have yet to see) this isn’t been a difficult task to accomplish.

  4. Justin Souther

    Expectations can be a catalyst when you see films and I was in the mood for a laugh out loud riot, so maybe that is why I didn’t like the movie.

    I think they definitely advertised this movie wrong, and judging by its box office over the weekend, trying to sell it as what it is couldn’t have hurt. Maybe give it a shot when you’ve got some distance between your initial viewing and those expectations and see what you think then. Sometimes knowing what you’re getting into can pay huge dividends. I’d be curious to know what you think.

    Is it just me or is anyone else sick of the “quiet/poetic/artistic/ nerd does good” character?

    I think it’s definitely a cliche these days (I’m sure to a certain degree because the people who write these things see themselves as the quiet/poetic/artistic nerds) but the movies are built on such things so I doubt they’re disappearing anytime soon. You could also probably make an argument that it’s an archetype a lot of people relate to these days.

    Regardless, I think in this case the character itself is much more developed than usual in the way he’s simply trying to figure out where he fits in the world, something I think most of us can — or at least should — relate to.

  5. Steven

    Just watched this a few hours ago. I was very, [i]very[/i] surprised with this. I enjoyed it immensely. I agree with the previous comment, the emotional moments never felt forced.

    I really am surprised at how much I liked this. It’s definitely in the top five films that I’ve seen this year.

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