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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Love, laughs and lots of substance(s) in 'Adventureland'

By Tatiana Craine

I’ve had my fair share of bad summer jobs. I’ve meticulously mowed my grandfather’s lawn at his bidding during sweltering weekend afternoons. I’ve done some babysitting for small, bratty children who run faster than their small legs should possibly be able to move. I’ve worked retail and folded (and refolded) panties at a lingerie store for eight hours on end. When I heard about “Adventureland,” I was excited to see a film that brought my (and countless other peoples’) summer job plights to the big screen. I walked into the theater with high hopes; the film is a semi-autobiographical account of Greg Mottola’s experiences from 1984 working at the Farmington, New York, Adventureland amusement park. Mottola, the film’s writer and director, is best known for his work on the television series, “Arrested Development,” and for directing the 2007 hit, “Superbad.”

“Adventureland” follows slightly angst-ridden, college grad James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) during his summer after graduation. His plans to travel through Europe go awry when his family has financial problems and can’t fund the trip anymore. His only option? A summer job. But, being a recent college grad with no real work experience, James finds it nearly impossible to get a job. That is, until he arrives at the local amusement park and gets hired immediately by the park owners (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig). Little does James know it, but the summer of 1987 will bring him to places he never expected to go. He makes friends with a fellow carnie (Martin Starr), a mysterious and gorgeous park worker named Em (Kristen Stewart) and a host of other quirky characters.

The film is chockfull of smoking weed, drinking beer, classic 1980s music, big hair, hipster-chic fashion and good old-fashioned theme park fun. Needless to say, there’s drama between some of the park workers-romantic tension, carnie-visitor drama that instigates a fight (and a hilarious performance by Hader) and a little stress between some of the Catholic and Jewish workers in the park.

When I learned I had the chance to talk to Mottola during a recent college conference call, I jumped at the opportunity. During the call, Mottola remained very gracious and collected, answering questions with thoughtful precision. He touched on many topics, including his choice for Jesse Eisenberg to carry the film-rather than an old favorite, Michael Cera. He mentioned Eisenberg’s freshness and the caliber of his performance in “The Squid and the Whale.” Mottola felt that Cera was a better fit for films similar to “Superbad,” and that Eisenberg had an edgier, less innocent quality that fit well with the James Brennan role.

Mottola offered some of his recent inspirations regarding his newest film, “There are huge challenges. When the economy started going bad-when I started to make ‘Adventureland,’ I was reading stories about young people who had to move back in with their parents. During my grandparent’s generation, they wanted to make sure their kids had more than they had and my parents wanted to make sure I had more than they did. That trend can’t go on forever, and I feel like it’s a tricky thing now. Young people are really facing an uncertain future and a littler after coming home from college I sort of remember I learned so much at college, but I learned absolutely nothing that would prepare me for the real world. That’s universal. I guess I do sort of like those universal, relatable experiences and try to find my own personal way to talk about them.”

I had time to talk to Mottola about his television and film career and which artistic medium he preferred. He replied, “Well, I have to admit my dream was always to make films. So if they keep letting me make films, then I’ll do that. If within the dream movies there was a chance to do some really cool TV show, I would definitely do that. I live in New York City, so I’m dying to do a TV show here at home as a chance to work in my home city and meet people in the New York film scene. I feel like I’m a little out of touch with it.”

Mottola went on to describe the troubles associated with budget cuts, the great chemistry between the cast members and how a lot of the characters in “Adventureland” are based off of people he’s known in the past. Mottola also had a lot of insight into just why he chose to set the film in 1987, “I feel like stories that take place in the past have their own bittersweet quality-especially a love story because you think these things that have all come and gone. And I think there’s a sadness to it that sort of appeals to me. I also feel there are a lot of movies made about the 80s that tend to be a kitsch-fest: ‘look how terrible the clothes are,’ and ‘look how awful the music was.’ There’s certainly a lot of that in this movie, but that’s not the point of this movie. I really tried to create a sense that this happened 20 years ago. Probably because the world seemed so much more innocent before the internet, before cell phones.”

I walked out of “Adventureland” completely happy with what I’d just watched. There was a bit of quirkiness, lots of humor, a little drama, a splash of sex and a great story with amazing characters. The film is more character-driven than plot-based, but in this case, that’s okay. By the end of the film, I felt like I knew all the characters really well-well enough to want to hang out with them and their seriously 80s clothes.

The cast made what could have been a mediocre spring film into a fantastic way to spend an afternoon. Jesse Eisenberg’s performance was spot-on as a college grad dealing with a lot on his plate. I was surprised that Kristen Stewart, an actress I usually don’t care for, won me over with her role as a hot game attendant at Adventureland. Supporting cast members Martin Star (best known for his role on “Freaks and Geeks” back in 1999) and Ryan Reynolds added a great dynamic to the film-both bringing depth and hilarity to their roles. The “Saturday Night Live” crew, Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as Adventureland’s owners, had perfect comedic timing and onscreen chemistry, acting as a silly but sweet couple.

“Adventureland” is no “Superbad.” The film doesn’t have that rough, high school, petty humor feel to it. The film achieves more than that and branches into serious dramatic territory, Mottola’s ventures succeeding on the silver screen. If you’re looking for a film that will make you laugh and make you think, something that will remind you of summer as the warmer weather approaches, something that will make you wish you had someone to come back home to-take a chance on “Adventureland.” You’re in for a hell of a ride.

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