- Wide Release
- Director: Greg Mottola
- Written by: Greg Mottola
- Running Time: 107 minutes
- Language: English
- MPAA Rating: R - Restricted
- Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds, Matt Bush, Margarita Levieva, Martin Starr, Kelsey Ford, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Michael Zegen, Ryan McFarland, Jack Gilpin, Wendie Malick, Todd Cioppa, Stephen Mast, Adam Kroloff, Kevin Breznahan, Marc Grapey, Paige Howard, Dan Bittner, Moe Slinger, Jesse Slinger, Jack Baldwin, Rob Orr, Russell Steinberg, Andrew Ransom, Joe Sanderson, Barret Hackney, Kimisha Renee Davis, Cliff Chen, Eric Schaeffer, Vanessa Hope, Josh Pais, Mary Birdsong, Gennaro DiSilvio, Alexis Ferrante, Joe Pawlenko, Zack Palmer, Declan Baldwin, Ian Harding, Ashtin Petrella, Amy Landis, Janine Viola, Alana Hixson, Erin Cappiccie, Lisa Lamendola, Jeremy Ambler, Aaron Bernard, Alex Cole, Aron Elvis Honick, William Kania, David Dale McCue, Jeremy Moon, Frank Rossi, Logan C. Sayre, Krista Schwandt
In the 1970s, a budding crop of upstart filmmakers seemed to invest a lot of time and energy into fashioning films detailing the experiences they had in their formative years; which generally plopped their narrative timeframes somewhere in the 1950s. “American Graffiti”, “The Wanderers”, and “Grease” are just a few of the films that emerged from that creative fervor. Nowadays, a newly energized crop of fresh-outta-school filmmakers are beginning to come into their own artistically, and arising out of that vigour seems to be a new vitality to trumpet their own youthful endeavours, which, of course, gives us a whole bunch of angst-ridden films set in the 1980s. It’s almost comical how the naïveté of ‘the times’ (be it the 1950s or the 1980s) seems to translate so well in the movies, as each generation grows more cynical, and, seemingly, wiser than the previous. Hmm… I wonder how our current times will translate to filmmakers in 2020. The haircuts, the music and the notion that we were so naïve – I’m sure it will show up in their films, even if the filmmakers themselves are not openly attempting to make a mockery of it.
For Greg Mottola, “Adventureland” is his Proustian love-letter to the one summer he spent working at a suburban amusement park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the twilight years just before adulthood. It’s the summer he discovered that those idealistic plans he formulated of back-packing across Europe would have to be put on hold, maybe indefinitely, as his father’s job had just become yet another casualty of (Reagan-era) Republican policies. It was also the summer that he met a girl so wonderful and profound, that she would spin his head around to the point that he was willing to hop on a bus with no money in his pocket and head out to New York just to tell her one last time how much he loved her. For Greg Mottola, his reflections of that summer were one of “the most transformative experiences of (his) life,” and this film is his personal re-staging of those moments and, ultimately, those transformations. Yes, this is his story, and it’s deeply rooted in new perspectives; in nostalgia for a better time in his life, one where embarrassment matched heartache, shame and love in equal amounts, adding up to something so emotionally reflective that he felt compelled to adapt those memories into a feature-length movie some twenty years later.
"Adventureland” treads territory we’ve seen before, many times, even succumbing to inevitable cliches here and there, however, this is done with some flair and, you know, intelligence. James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), the film’s protagonist, is saddled with the new harsh reality of life, as his father has been demoted, thus diminishing whatever future prospects he had of living hostel to hostel across Europe (and maybe even in hopping off to Columbia journalism school for something more serious, like a career). His only hope is to find a job, and since his liberal arts degree offers nothing by way of practical employment, he’s forced to surrender to a summer as just another wage serf down at the local amusement park known as “Adventureland”. The proprietors of the self titled “funtastic” Pennsylvania park, Bobby (Bill Hader) and wife Paulette (Kristen Wiig), are the kind of dreamy eyed couple we all wish we had as bosses. Merely a single glance is all it takes for the pair to assess their newly arrived employee’s worth amongst the hierarchy of the park’s social order. Even though he pictures himself as a “Ride Operator”, James is immediately pegged as a “Games” guy, which is, apparently, a lower tier station in the park. Thus begins his summer of immobility, watching hawkishly as folks desperately attempt to outwit games that are, in reality, fixed, all the while sweating out the moment that he’ll be forced to hand out one of those all-important Big Ass Pandas, an act of which is tantamount to throwing his job out the window. As it turns out, the “Games” position is teaming with deep thinking slackers, introverted ne'er-do-wells and general oddballs, and James, who easily fits into anyone of those categories (well, depending on how much dope he smokes), finds immediate kinship. And that bag of joints his prepster friend gave him before skipping off to Europe without him, seems to endear him to his new found park pals.
As hazy days trickle into each other, accompanied by television newsflashes of Reagan’s involvement in the Iran-Contra investigation, and a soundtrack consisting of some retro-pop and one too many helpings of ‘Rock Me, Amadeus’, James finds himself drawn to the park's assortment of characters, including two very dissimilar guys who, ultimately, become his unlikely mentors. Considering that he, as a musician, once jammed with Lou Reed, and that he’s built quite a reputation in the park as a ladies man, it’s no wonder why James would be enticed by 30 something maintenance worker, Connell (Ryan Reynolds), that is until he slowly begins to untwine the myth behind the man – unveiling a deeply unsettled fellow in a state of arrested development, who is, unbelievably, still searching for some sense of stability. Reynolds' character in any other movie would be the brunt of a joke, but not here. Yeah, he's full of shit, but, for whatever reason, we still kind of like the guy.
Contrasting that is Joel (Martin Starr), a hyper-nerdy, pipe-smoking, Plato-quoting, studier of Russian literature, that regularly reminds James that sometimes the most mundane things can at times be the most satisfying, even when he doesn't realize it. However, it’s the young girl, Em (Kristen Stewart) working across the way that eventually catches his eye and never lets go. Smitten from the outset, James finds himself awkwardly navigating Em’s troubled shores, until he himself can no longer resist the urge to dive in fully and completely. Following the death of her mother two years earlier, Em seems to have sought therapy in the bed of an older man who also works at the park, and that's just the beginning of her damage. Dancing between an old mechanical-type relationship seemingly built on sex and nothing else, and her blossoming emotionally-driven romance with an adoring new paramour, James, Em eventually finds herself crumbling under the weight of it all. The rain-drenched middle-of-the-street break up scene between James and Em, although cliche in general structure, still manages to retain its power and, boy, it's absolutely heartbreaking. Watching Em's face as the second love of her life, aside from her mother, leaves her, fading off into the darkness, is about as soul-destroying as it gets. Don't worry though, love will find Em, even if it requires an implusive bus trip to New York to do it. For actress Kristen Stewart, this is a chance to delve into some emotional areas not asked of her in "Twilght", a film that, for better or worse, made her a star. Sadly, Stewart's tendency to mug and preen becomes annoying after awhile, but she's young and will probably grow out of it with time. I hope.
While it’s clear that “Adventureland” is merely a collective tale of the post-adolescent experience but sometimes that’s all it needs to be; because life is really about the little things; the riding in bumper cars with your friends or watching the fireworks exploding across the sky while breathing in the night air, staring at some beautiful girl sitting across from you on a hill, yeah, the little universal things that keep us yearning for days gone by. Years from now, I’ll probably reminiscence about this film with the same brand of affection often reserved for thoughts of my childhood. Isn’t it ironic how oblivious we are to the fortunes granted us in our youth, and that we don’t even begin to appreciate them until many years have gone by and reflections and memories are all that are left? I'm sure my memories of this film will also grow much deeper with time. For Greg Mottola, “Adventureland” was his personal story, but given a couple of script tweaks, I’m sure, it could probably be most anyone’s.
Thank you, Greg Mottola.