If you’ve seen the trailer for Adventureland and thought it looked like the sort of film you’d enjoy, then I’m here to tell you – this is not the film you’re going to see.
Adventureland is written and directed by Greg Mottola, probably best known as the director of Superbad. But, unlike Superbad, Adventureland is a quiet coming of age story, comprised of gentle character-based humour rather than the crude gags that the film’s promotion suggests, and one that is told with a surprising sweetness and grace.
It’s 1987 and James (Jesse Eisenberg) has plans for a summer backpacking around Europe before grad school. However, his plans are waylaid when his father gets demoted and he is forced to take a summer job at Pittsburgh’s local amusement park, “Adventureland”. Thrown together with his “carnie” co-workers, he meets the enigmatic Em (Kristen Stewart) and his summer begins.
It’s hard not to fall slightly in love with this worst-of-times-best-of-times story, where script, soundtrack and cast manage to hit all the right notes. Jesse Eisenberg is endearing as James, a romantic soul trying to find his place in the world, and Kristen Stewart is as impressive as ever in her role (which somehow always manages to surprise me). Martin Starr, Ryan Reynolds, Bill Hader, and the lovely Kristen Wiig are their excellent supporting cast.
Mottola based the film on his own experiences, working at a Long Island amusement park, and probably because of this, it always feels believable. As part of James’s journey, his realisation of responsibility and disappointment, where everyone is fighting their own battles, even the potential villains of this piece, are treated with a humanity that stops them from becoming caricatures.
Adventureland perfectly sums up that intensity of a summer job and how it becomes your world for a few months. But the film’s accomplishment is in how it imparts the beauty and significance of those small moments – where an act of nobility is standing up for a friend, or revelation comes from a misremembered song lyric, or simply how watching fireworks with the person you really like can feel like the most thrilling thing that’s ever happened to you.
The film sets itself against a fantastic soundtrack, establishing the nostalgic tone – an assembly of Lou Reed, David Bowie, Big Star, The Cure and The Replacements. Mottola has said that despite pressure to rewrite the movie as contemporary, he refused, as he felt keeping it in the past gave it “a slightly more melancholy strain”.
Even though my summers of crappy minimum-wage jobs took place a decade later, for me this film absolutely captures that edgeland before adulthood, the time when you are still waiting for your life to begin, when music and literature and the search for someone who understands you feel like the only things that will save you. Mottola manages to bundle all that up and seal it into a perfect time capsule, which is Adventureland.
For more information about Adventureland, visit the official IMDb page http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1091722/