Movie Diary: Adventureland.

So last night I saw "Adventureland," the new movie from Greg Mottola, who directed "Superbad" and used to work on "Undeclared." Unlike "Superbad," which was written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, "Adventureland" was written as well as directed by Mottola. I was under the impression, from reading brief synopses of this movie, that it would be a goofy comedy that might be fun but wouldn't be anything all that great. However, I was hanging out with Brandon yesterday and he had already seen it, wanted to see it again, and promised that I would like it, so based on his recommendation, I decided to go with him and see it.

I'm so glad I did. "Adventureland" is an excellent movie. It's not that much like "Superbad" at all, because while it is comedic in tone for much of the film, and absolutely hilarious at points, there is also a lot of serious content in it. The plot mixes humor into what is essentially a coming of age story. James Brennan, played by Jesse Eisenberg, who was the older son in "The Squid And The Whale," has just graduated from college, and is expecting a summer-long European trip as a graduation gift from his parents. However, they have run into money troubles, and inform him that the European trip is off, and if he wants to go to grad school in the fall, he's going to have to get a summer job and save up money. He ends up taking a job at a third-rate local amusement park called Adventureland, working on the games crew.

This movie is a period piece of sorts, set in 1987, and although there are occasional period details that ring false to me (the kids drink beer out of pop-top cans of a type that had, if I remember correctly, gone the way of the dodo by the end of the 70s), for the most part the movie makes it work. In fact, I don't think the plot would work as well if it were set in the current era. The main setting for the movie is Adventureland, which is the sort of amusement park that doesn't really exist anymore. All of the ones I ever knew of like that shut down back in the 90s. It's a pretty essential part of the movie, though, so although I tend to be leery of pseudo-period pieces that take place in the relatively recent past, I think it was a good choice in this case. Also, it was a good excuse for the main characters to listen to awesome 80s era bands like Husker Du and the Replacements. Anything that allows a movie to have "Bastards Of Young" as its opening theme, and to have "Don't Want To Know If You Are Lonely" and "Unsatisfied" on the soundtrack, is all right with me.

So anyway, James starts working at Adventureland, and since all of his old friends have either moved away or are taking the European trip that he wasn't able to go on, he falls in with the other people who work at Adventureland, and starts partying and hanging out with them. He quickly becomes friends with Joel, played by the awesome and under-utilized Martin Starr of "Freaks And Geeks" fame, whom it was awesome to see in a prominent role again after all this time, and Em, played by Kristen Stewart, who was apparently terrible in "Twilight" but does a great job in "Adventureland," playing James's love interest in a subtle, understated manner. The kids work and party and hook up over the course of the summer, and the movie switches back and forth between the sort of ridiculous, hilarious hijinks that people get up to when they work unchallenging jobs with lots of downtime, and more serious moments in which the kids try to learn how to grow up and have adult relationships with each other and with their parents. The way this movie switches regularly between ridiculous slapstick comedy and dead-on moments of real human interaction might seem surprising to people who check it out expecting "Superbad Pt. 2," but those who react that way are missing what is actually an incredibly well-done and realistic movie. All of the characters, from the kids who are the focus of the film to their co-workers at the amusement park to their parents, are fleshed-out and multi-dimensional, and this combined with the movie's tonal shifts make it more like a story taken from real life than most movies I've seen. In this way, it reminds me of one of my all-time favorite movies, "Dazed and Confused." While "Adventureland" takes place over a summer instead of one night, and has a much more defined story arc than "Dazed And Confused" has (that being the awkward romance between James and Em), both movies succeed tremendously as slices of real life, inhabited by real people.

I think everyone should see this movie. Undoubtedly one of the year's best.



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