The trailer for Adventureland proudly proclaims “From the Director of Superbad”, however bar the penchant for taking two words and splicing them together to make a witty title, these films are very different. Mottola shows an altogether more subtle side to his craft as he instils your average summer of love story with a caring poignant edge missing from many of its competitors.
James is your typical unremarkable graduate. His degree has left him educated but no more prepared for work and after applying and failing to get any number of jobs he finds himself working games in 80’s run down theme park Adventureland. The park itself acts as a microcosm for social society and standing. Divided between the desirable and cool Rides crew and the barrel bucket lows of the Games employees. James manages to lift himself onto the radar with a unusually large bag of weed and so begins the summer of his life.
The story itself is a typical stumble through first love and losing that feeling of alienation in order to find a place for yourself. It’s a story that could easily seem placid if not handled right, but Mottola imbues Adventureland with the right amounts of humour, angst and tender autobiographical wimsy to allow us all to identify with it along the way. The characters and well sketched and I found myself wanting to spend more time with them, even the ones who were not so perfect. James (Jessie Eisenberg) and Em (Kristen Stewart) play a sweet low key leading couple and Em in particular is fleshed out as a damaged but all too human teen who like so many of us is just looking for that connection. There are good comedy turns all over from the likes of Superbad cop Bill Hader as Bobby, but the stand-out is clearly Martin Starr as Joel who manage to steal each scene he inhabits as easily as he did in his breakout role in Freaks & Geeks.
The human on show is much less crass than in Superbad, with dick jokes limited entirely to one character continually ‘sack-slapping’ other characters (more often than not James) and although there is one in your face purile joke, it is rather perfectly placed and I have to admit laughing out loud to “James, don’t get all drunk and fall asleep or anything.” “Why not?” “Because I’ll jack off on your face.” In reality, this kind of lays down a perfect metaphor for a movie that isn’t always original or dynamic in it’s choice of direction, but the love and care in it’s delivery and handling by both the actors and director allow for us to enjoy a ride just as it needs to be enjoyed.
I would shy away from saying it is more than the sum of it’s parts, but in a way I suppose that’s how I feel about Adventureland, initially I wasn’t sure how I felt, but I eventually realised this was because I was longing for more time with this movie. I enjoyed the characters, the smoothness of how it went along and the soundtrack that followed reminiscent song after reminiscent song. that really is the bottom line, you feel like you identify, be it with the first love, the crappy joke, feeling alienated or stuck in a rut, somewhere you find yourself mirroring you life in what you see. Not long after I saw this, I caved in to the nagging to download Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over” from the soundtrack, and as I cycled into work that day, song in my ear, I thought about Adventureland and I smiled and really that says about all I want to say.