Adventureland (Mottola, 2009)

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Greg Mottola’s beguiling new film Adventureland resonates from a place of personal nostalgia, in this case the pivotal Summer of 1987 for James (Jesse Eisenberg) who reluctantly takes a job at a local amusement park to help pay for graduate school. A canceled trip to Europe causes him to return home with his “pragmatic” parents, watching slowly as his ideal vacation with yuppie friends quickly morphs into a never-ending lounge with the locals of Pittsburgh. During his time at Adventureland, James comes in contact with an assortment of characters, all riffs of stereotypes from other films, yet each containing a sense of true uncertainty that parallels his own. The result is a striking array of people running fruitlessly across life’s quick sand aiming to stay afloat, hoping to keep the status quo alive.

In aesthetic terms, the collective fabric of the amusement park adds up to a sublime sense of space, a monotonous playground of flashing lights, loud screams, and droning pop music populated with aching souls. Yet Mottola respects the place and the role it plays in his hero’s existence, a stepping stone of insecurity and mindless fluff needed to discover how little James knows about life. Simultaneously indicating a devout passion for and conflict with remembering feelings of youth, Adventureland is torn between tones; best as a melancholy coming of age film and worst during its conventional moments of comedy and plotting. However, Mottola’s honest dialogue and characters makes for a slyly moving experience, where the passage of time plays the biggest trick of all. Before long, the Summer you dreaded so much is over, and it ended up being pretty revelatory.

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3 thoughts on “Adventureland (Mottola, 2009)

  1. Just watched this last night as well…..The montone vocal acting style of both leads made me feel the pacing was off in the beginning, (like too many elements were working together doing the same thing and not accomplishing enough) I even felt that Super Bad might be a superior film, but it didn’;t take long to realize that I was wrong and that Adventurland, as fantastical as I thought the film might be, it was far more based in reality than Superbad. Plus, Ning liked it too.

  2. We just watched this one tonight, and it’s as good as both the review and comment above would indicate. I’ve loved Mottola ever since The Daytrippers, and it’s good to see he’s still got it. By the by, this one makes an interesting comparison with The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, a much-maligned but not-bad-at-all rendition of Chabon’s novel (much shorter, thank god) that takes place around the same time and has an equally good cast.

  3. Adventureland just seems to get better as time passes and I can’t wait to watch it again. I keep thinking about how undeniably sad it becomes in the third act, but also how it pulls that sadness away to reveal the youthful exuberance at its core. Mottola sees his heroes as people able to move on, and his tragic characters intrinsically linked to their lifelong weaknesses.

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