Adventureland (2009)

Mitchell
written and directed by Greg Mottola
Jesse Eisenberg, Ryan Reynolds, Kristen Stewart, Kristin Wiig, and Bill Hader

This is not the film you think it is. The only thing it has in common with Superbad is its desire to get things fairly close to the way the screenwriters remember them. Yes, there are some crude moments, but nothing at all like the how-far-can-we-push-it crudity in Superbad and its ilk. Adventureland, rather, plays like a “What the heck do we do, now that we’re out of college?” movie and in this (thematic) way, it will appeal to most of the Village Idiots.

Before I summarize, I will just say that the most intriguing thing about this picture is that while it was written by a Gen Xer about Gen X characters (the film is set in the summer of 1987), I think Mottola made a Gen Y movie, and this is why I’d really love to hear Tony’s and Reid’s thoughts about it. Penny agreed that this was a lot more Garden State than Reality Bites and I’d love to be able to point to specific elements that make it so.

Eisenberg plays just-graduated-from-college James, who is supposed to be spending summer vacation in Europe with some friends, but his father’s changing situation at work makes that impossible to finance, and in fact James is going to have to get a summer job just to pay for his housing at Columbia in the fall. He gets a job as a Games guy at Adventureland, a local theme park (in reality, the park is in New York, but in this film it is in Pittsburgh).

The film explores the inner workings of the theme park from the points of view of the regular workers. James hates his job, but he likes Em, one of his coworkers, and Joel, another coworker who will remind most of us of at least one person we knew in the years following college. Joel is brilliant, witty, clever, socially awkward, and seemingly unable to get himself out of the inertia of his disappointing post-college life. Em has issues at home and in her love life but seems genuinely to like James. Other characters move in and out of the main action, mostly coworkers at the theme park, and we are brought into their mini-dramas and stunts.

There’s a kind of realism I appreciated about this film; I don’t think Mottola either over-dramatizes the reality of that post-college what-now mentality, nor does he forget that it really was an angsty bummer. He chooses music from the time period, but it’s mostly so far on the fringe that the soundtrack will sound fresher; in fact, the film could easily pass for a mid-nineties piece, which I think the director did on purpose. Why a Gen Xer would write about Gen X characters but create a film that feels like a Gen Y film is beyond me, but THAT’s what I’m dying to talk about with someone!

My friend Jenn says Mottola didn’t make a Gen Y film; he really made a teen movie. I can see the argument, but I’m going to have to look at it again before I can agree or disagree.

Its likable characters and clear memory of what those days were like make this a re-watchable film for me. A high 7/10. I don’t use decimals in rating movies, but this is really a 7.75 if I did.

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