Scene 12 – Adventureland

I came across this weeks movie by mistake coincidence…having mistakenly mixed it up with another ‘land’ titled film, also featuring Jesse Eisenberg….so I never got around to watching this one. So what better way to watch it then have it as this weeks blog…

Director Greg Mottola shot onto the movie scene with his critically acclaimed debut feature The Daytrippers. This, his third instalment Adventureland, his quasi-autobiographical follow-up to the successful 2007 hit, Superbad. Adventureland shares similar plot-lines with The Daytrippers, such as woven acuity relating to matters of class and culture, sex, growing-up and money, in ‘modern’ American life. I use ‘modern’ loosely here in relation to the 1980’s/mid 90’s term “building for a new, modern America”…blah blah blah. As for Adventureland , it is set in the neither distant nor immediate past of 1987. 

The plot focuses itself around James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), a young man who plans to move to New York City to pursue a postgrad journalism course at Columbia University. James’ woes begin when, just after graduating, he’s told by his parents (Jack Gilpin and Wendie Malick) that because his father has been demoted at work, they can’t afford to contribute to either the trip to Europe he planned to take with his wealthier friend Eric (Michael Zegen), or his move to New York….i.e the real world flipping him the bird.
James search for an alternative cash flow leads him a summer job at Adventureland, a lame expanse of junk, where most of the games and rides are fixed, and of dubious safety. The class divide is subtly continued within the park were the pretty & popular types chosen to run the rides and the weedier rejects assigned to games. James, to his annoyance…much like when he found out he had work for his money, is now assured by owner-managers Bobby (Bill Hader) and Paulette (Kristen Wiig) is definitely a games type. He soon makes friends amongst his coworkers, helped in large part to the stash of weed Eric left him….oh and to his decent, gentle demeanour. Soon after he begins a tentative romance with one of his fellow games drones, Em Lewin (Kristen Stewart), after she helps him out of a sticky situation…only to awkwardly declare himself to be slowly recovering from an 11-day failed romance to excuse the fact that he’s befuddled at still being a virgin…it’s probably cause he’s a twat!
A common trait among the films Mottola as directed is a deceptive script, with Adventureland following suit—offering virtually shapeless offerings of the characters’ daily travails, the drolly recounted frauds, frustrations, inanities, and yearnings that characterise a day’s work at the fairground, all the while quietly building towards an inevitable moment of crisis. It has to be said that crisis is signaled early on when it’s revealed that although clearly attracted to James, Em is carrying on a purely sexual affair with the fair’s resident mechanic, Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds)…I know what you are thinking, Kristen Stewart sleeping with an authoritative figure…wait, you weren’t?…forget I even said it……Em is something of an enigma even to herself, daughter to a well-off lawyer, already studying in New York, but who has buried herself for almost Dostoyevskian reasons in a crummy, low-paying job for the duration of the summer. As her romance with James blossoms, she reveals a lingering, consuming outrage at her father’s marriage to Francy, a high-strung, obnoxious social climber with whom he had commenced an affair when her mother was dying of cancer.
Adventureland belongs in a kind of subgenre of growing up in modern America’ movies, amongst the likes of Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, with a playful edge of nostalgic satire and a “jeez wasn’t it sucky but it all works out in the end” take on the difficulties of negotiating youth and functioning adulthood. Adventure land is not only about James’ education in matters of love, but also in matters of economics, as he is introduced to problems of social mobility he hadn’t had to consider before. Is it to Mottola’s credit that the characters are well-rounded, familiar types or is it Mottola just fitting in with the subgenre Linklater coined years before, just like his movies….and I’d have to say it’s the latter. Although idea of using the amusement park as a microcosm of life is a genuinely effective motif. 

Stewart’s nascent career has been badly hampered in terms of critical attention thanks to the Twilight films…and rightly so in fairness,  but she’s quietly good as a likeable but uneasy, compromised, subtly fraying girl, particularly in the sequence in which, after receiving a series of pounding humiliations, she returns home and insouciantly pours herself a whiskey whilst taunting her mother-in-law with obviously incendiary intent. Eisenberg is ok as James, even if he’s required to be little more than a slightly snappier and manlier Michael Cera from Superbad.

Mottola’s narrative does little that’s unfamiliar….There’s a lot of humour in the film, most of which stems merely from dryly observed perversities of the park and period tragedies, like the incessant playing of Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus”. Watch it or not, Adventureland won’t show or tell you something you haven’t seen before. Its story fits in just like the templated characters within the subgenre, offering nothing new, only reminding us that growing up is hard and sucks…but someones gotta do it. 


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