PSA: Adventureland (2009), or Where Have All The Summers Gone?

6 04 2009

There are no more wacky summers in our adulthood. There are no more months to get away from the pressures of life. There are days off and days on, and there are never enough days off to really do anything. Adulthood has many, many perks, but the one disadvantage we always find ourselves in is a lack of time. Those summers away from school, while mostly uneventful, allowed for the imagination to stir. Possibilities were more vivid, fun only seemed a heartbeat away, and gatherings were much more frequent when you knew that all your friends would still be free to do something the next day. Childhood was not a fun time for me, and I relish my adult life with pleasure, but if I was ever given three wishes, one of the wishes would be to have one more summer with all of my friends. And every single movie in the world on DVD. And $32 billion. But I digress. Adventureland is a dizzying summer in 1987, and its magic lies within its ability to recreate that magic feeling while still grounding its characters in a grind for cash.

James Brennan is an artistic, sensitive college kid who is ready to go to a major college after his dream trip to Europe. This is 1987, though, which means that Reagan is sucking much of the country dry with Star Wars Missile Defense System pipe dreams, so James’s dad receives a considerable pay cut at his job, which nixes his dreams for Europe and jeopardizes his dreams of going to a major college. He’ll have to save up if he wants to go, so he has to find a job. And since he has had no job experience, and it is 1987, things are tough all over. Luckily, one place in town is hiring; Adventureland, the crappy theme park in town that a lot of broke teenagers his age are working at. He is hired on the spot, to both his joy and dismay. Despite the friends he finds there, the job seems like a real bitch at first, with its neurotic managers, asshole co-workers, and scum-of-the-earth parkgoers. But then he meets Em, a sexy co-worker who is just the right fit for him in every way, and things don’t seem so bad. Will James be able to save up for college? Can he keep down the coolest chick in his world? Or will the pressure be too much for the artistic, sensitive kid?

This film was extremely mismarketed. The studio, Miramax, would like us to believe that Adventureland is the next Superbad just because it was written and directed by the same guy, Greg Mottola. It is a good movie, make no mistake, but I do not think that Mottola was going for a straight comedy here. There are a lot of serious issues here, and a number of scenes are incredibly dramatic and surprisingly intense. Poverty, jealousy, infidelity, and spite are all touched upon in here in very palpable ways, and they are dealt with in very human, very real terms. For those of you out there expecting this to be a hoot and a holler, there are definitely scenes that make me crack up, but if you are coming to this thinking that this will be as raucous and as joke-heavy as Superbad, you are barking up the wrong tree.

The writing here is crisp and natural. As a director, Mottola captures the anxiety of youth, wanting to travel the world but having to stay put in one place, in a very enticing package. But what he does with the lens, he does in equal measure with the pen. There are some real gems here that could go unnoticed because of the flowing nature of the dialog. James is hanging with his Adventureland friends during the 4’th of July, and actually says one of the most pretentious things I have ever heard, “I don’t actually celebrate the 4’th; I celebrate Bastille Day.” (!!!) You’d barely notice it, but I thought it was James’s funniest line. When one of James’s theme park friends, the Russian literature-studying, pipe-smoking Joel, asks a girl out, he offers her Nikolai Gogol’s The Overcoat to break the ice!!!! What chrome-plated balls this guy has! He’s shot down, of course, but just the fact that he brought the book alone was a brilliant piece of screenwriting. Greg Mottola really has a way with words, and although his Superbad fans might be put off by this output, fans of his earlier work, The Daytrippers, or anybody who enjoys quick wit and a sly joke will enjoy the style.

So reclaim your lost summers. Take more time for yourself during the week. Let down your hair a bit at home. Call up your friends instead of staying in and have some fun with your life while you’re still around to do something about it. And when you go out with your friends, go ahead and suggest this movie, so that maybe all of you can each rediscover a bit of freedom for yourselves. Adventureland is a fun, fresh endeavor that may be nostalgic for some, and merely smile-inducing for the rest. You might be surprised how much you’ll enjoy this movie, even without an over-abundance of dick jokes. I give it 9 Bastille Days out of 10.

See you tomorrow, where we crash into The Transporter!

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One response

2 05 2009
goregirl

I still haven’t seen Observe and Report. But I did take you up on your recommend for this film and loved it! It is sweetly sentimental and funny without being at all syrupy. It does an outstanding job at capturing simple moments and making them memorable. The performances across the board were excellent particularily the two leads. Hell, even Ryan Reynolds who I am not generally a fan of, did a pretty damn good job at playing it straight. It was well worth the price of admission!

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