Reviews

Adventureland

A hugely enjoyable blend of humor and agony that captures the confused, painful, but open-ended state of late adolescence.


Adventureland

Director: Greg Mottola
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Martin Starr
Distributor: Miramax
Extras: 5
Studio: Miramax
US Release Date: 2009-08-25

Perhaps Adventureland’s middling box office performance will be a blessing in disguise. That the film wasn’t a blockbuster further illuminates its hidden gem status, the kind that’s often pegged to low-budget comedic/melancholic coming-of-age films. If it was popular, its success might overshadow its personality.

As it is, Adventureland features complex characters in complicated relationships but in a very accessible scenario that makes the film easily relatable and seemingly allows it to say different things to different audiences. Nostalgic remembrance of the follies of youth, the disrespect of minimum wage, learning your parents aren’t saints but aren’t villains either, the murkiness of infidelity, the fruitless pursuit of higher education – Adventureland has it all.

Serving as a quasi-memoir for writer/director Greg Mottola, Adventureland chronicles the first summer after college graduation for James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg). A graduate from Oberlin College with a degree in Comparative Literature and Renaissance Studies, James plans to attend Columbia grad school in the fall. But when he returns home, his dad has been moved to a new job and taken a severe pay cut (the film is set in 1987, so there are no direct parallels to the current economic climate) and James is forced to look for a summer job to help with tuition.

A quick survey of jobs in his Pittsburgh suburb brings him to the realization that he’s “not even qualified for manual labor”. Reluctantly, he takes a minimum wage job at the local amusement park, Adventureland. Relegated to working the electronic horse racing game, he meets a variety of similarly diffident co-workers that includes the world-weary Joel (Martin Starr), the alluring Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva) and the intriguing, confused Em (Kristen Stewart).

James’ time at the park adopts a quaint sense of comfort in its united hopelessness, but there’s still the prospect of purgatory lingering at the start of every morning. The film’s pacing is slow but confident, allowing events to unfold in a relaxed, novelistic way. The structure is appropriate for the literate dialogue and easy-going summer vibe inherent to the amusement park atmosphere.

Adventureland’s multi-faceted characters are its strongest suit and the film incorporates some disarmingly intense moments; in particular two standout scenes where Kristen Stewart (in a very impressive performance) plays her scenes fiery when they could have been maudlin. It’s also admirable how many conflicts remain unresolved – they may get addressed but they don’t receive easy closure. Adventureland isn’t afraid to portray the messy imperfections of real life but doesn’t make you feel glum about them, either.

The marketing for the theatrical release chose to focus on the film’s occasionally bawdy humor. Yes, there is a sequence that contains boner, vomit and urine jokes within a span of five minutes but these moments don’t define the film. Adventureland is profane but it is so in an early 20s-year-old way, not an exaggerated way. The film’s spirit is youthful but its soul is wise.

Filmmaker Greg Mottola cut his teeth directing television shows like Undeclared and Arrested Development before directing the smash hit Superbad. The success of that considerably raunchier film helped him receive funding for Adventureland, a screenplay he’d been developing for several years inspired by his own summer job experience at an amusement park in Long Island. Miramax emphasized its surface-level similarities to Superbad in the marketing while underplaying the film’s contemplative wistfulness.

The DVD packaging indicates they haven’t revised their approach for home video as the cover proudly states “Unrated Bonus Features”. I guess this refers to the occasional swear word uttered in the audio commentary by Mottola and lead star Jesse Eisenberg, because there certainly isn’t anything racy about the featurette or deleted scenes.

Just My Life: The Making of Adventureland runs 16-minutes and features Mottola comparing the film to his real life and discussing casting choices. He also discusses the struggle to find an amusement park that hadn’t been too modernized to pass for 1987 and mentions that Kennywood in Pennsylvania, the real operating amusement park they filmed on, is one of only two amusement parks in the national registry of historic places. Considering the film’s free form structure, one might expect a wealth of juicy deleted scenes, but sadly the three scenes included on the DVD barely run three minutes and only offer an additional joke or two.

The audio commentary features a witty rapport between Eisenberg and Mottola, who advises early on “you’re not getting the Martin Scorsese insight into filmmaking.” Instead they make a lot of high-culture jokes about Carl Jung, Charles Dickens and Swedish literature; although they refrain from describing the film as a Bildungsroman. Eisenberg and Mottola occasionally struggle when trying to keep the track professional but do offer some interesting production stories. For example, SNL members Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig who play the park managers were only able to shoot for four days on the film.

Much of the track is dedicated to discussing the music choices and clearly the film’s soundtrack is incredibly important to Mottola -- it boasts an impressive 41 songs from the '80s and the '60s. You get Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” but it’s not a kitsch-fest, there’s also two Velvet Underground songs, a lesser-known Rolling Stones track, and even room for an original score by Yo La Tengo.

I think the film has perfect bookending songs with The Replacements “Bastards of Young” beginning the film and INXS’ “Don’t Change” concluding it. Mottola reveals that the Replacements song was written into the script – as many of them were – and that he only received the money for INXS at the 11th hour of post-production. Mottola has a Cameron Crowe-esque understanding of music and the awesomeness of the music used here is second only to the film’s characters.

Unassuming and naturalistic, Adventureland has a remarkable sense of pathos for a young adult comedy. But its appealing ensemble, pitch-perfect soundtrack, and controlled filmmaking help the tougher moments go down smoothly. It’s a hugely enjoyable blend of humor and agony that captures the confused, painful, but open-ended state of late adolescence. You’ll never look at a Six Flags employee the same way again.

8

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image