Director: Greg Mottola
Producers: Ted Hope,
Anne Carey, Sidney Kimmel
Writer: Greg Mottola
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg,
Runtime: 106 minutes
Hollywood has a highly funded advertising industry, which gets films on billboards and film stars on TV talk shows. Of course, there are drawbacks to such a powerful marketing tool, most notably over-hyping a film. But every once in a while Hollywood advertises a film as something that it’s not, killing any chance of that film finding the right audience. “Aventureland” is, unfortunately, such a film. It isn’t the comedy it was made out to be, but instead a sort of existential mediation on life and the roles we’re all expected to play.
“Adventureland” casts its story on a 1987 backdrop, with recent college graduate James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) looking forward to grad school in New York. But his dreams are dashed when his father (Jack Gilpin) is demoted at work, resulting in a cut in pay. Unable to afford the expensive tuition, he spends his summer in his hometown of Pittsburgh, working at Adventureland, a local theme park. While working the dead-end job, he meets Em Lewin (Kristen Stewart), who’s at an entirely different point in her life. As their relationship grows, so do concerns each have for their futures and the choices they’re making during this pivotal summer.
If I were to score this film solely on the amount of laughs, it would easily be one of the lower rated movies of the year. Yes, there are comedic bits sprinkled throughout the film, and most of them are funny, but there just aren’t many. The notable exception is Adventureland manager Bobby, played by the most underappreciated comedian working in Hollywood, Bill Hader. He’s a goofy, likeable guy, responsible for most of the film’s laughs.
Fortunately, this isn’t supposed to be a straight-up comedy. This is a character driven film, not afraid to take its time building up relatable (although sometimes detested) characters. It also paints an accurate portrayal of life after youth, such as the middle-age guy stuck working at a dead-end job, constantly trying to relive the glory days, or the parents who struggle to make ends meet while trying to support a family. There’s something that everyone can relate to in this film, regardless of age.
Thankfully, writer/director Greg Mottola develops these characters in a subtle and realistic way. Characters never say too much or not enough — they communicate exactly how people in these situations communicate. This could very well be the result of Mottola basing this film off of a similar experience he had growing up, working at a Long Island amusement park. Regardless of how he did it, the fact remains that he achieved at making fleshed out, believable characters without being heavy handed.
The script is also another strong point to “Adventureland.” Mottola has definitely included plenty of the shenanigans young people engage in, but he’s also included discussions on theology and existentialism. While these discussions are admittedly aren’t too deep, they’re certainly refreshing to see in any film.
The setting of this film seems like an odd choice, which offers mixed results. Placing these events in 1987 allows for an amazing soundtrack, which captures the essence of the eclectic styles of the ’80s very well. It’s also nice to not have to look at this film through a modern-day filter. When money is tight for Brennan, it’s not a metaphor for the economy – it just is what it is. There are no references to politics, meaning that the film doesn’t have to worry about all that excess baggage which can drag a film down. However, the set and costume design isn’t convincing most of the time. Save for a few scenes, it would be almost impossible to date this film – it has a contemporary look to it that’s jarring when “Amadeus” plays on repeat at the amusement park.
It’s a shame that, because of some poor marketing, many people will miss out on “Adventureland.” It’s a mature look at how people view themselves and their place in the world, and the impacts their decisions can have on others. Mottola’s latest is truly a must-see.