Where do you go when the fantasy is over, the fresh college diploma is mocking you with its uselessness and you have no idea what to do next? When the bright lights, hair-metal, greasy food and pretty girls are calling, you head to Adventureland!
Greg Mottola (Superbad), writer and director of the semi-biographical new movie Adventureland that comes out in theaters on Friday, loosely tells the story of his own hopeless stint working at a theme park much like this in Long Island in the late ‘80s.
“Working in an amusement park was such a silly job where you feel stupid working for minimum wage and you wish you could do something better,” Mottola said in a recent college conference call. “But it’s also such a tremendously fun summer. It really captured everything I probably loved and hate about life out there.“
The movie centers on James Brennan (played by Jesse Eisenberg and based on Mottola himself), a recent college graduate in 1987 faced with utter disappointment. With no money, no prospect of a grand European adventure and no usable job skills, he lands in the middle of a somewhat shabby amusement park and begins the life of an underpaid carnie.
This seems like a pretty dismal summer but it supplies startlingly realistic experiences, such as being threatened with a hunting knife for a giant stuffed panda. However, the hope appears to lie in what Brennan finds at Adventureland: his first love, unusual characters and adventure.
Mottola explained how the repetitive, crappy music, vomiting children and humiliation that comes with the job also open up opportunities.
“It can be really boring and really dull and humiliating. Then the sun can go down and all the lights of the park are twinkling and a really great song can come on and you’re flirting with somebody. It has that power it can always have over anybody,” he said.
Brennan finds something unique in fellow games carnie Em (Kristen Stewart) and has the kind of epic first love summer romance that seems vital to the post-graduation adventure genre. There’s something different in Adventureland though, and the ups and downs in the film are oddly relatable and subtly humorous.
“Greg’s aesthetic is about loving and celebrating human foibles,” Ted Hope, one of the movie’s producers said in the official press notes. “He doesn’t make fun of any of his characters; he just reveals their faults along with their appeal.“
There are a handful of main characters that Mottola based on real people he met during his own stint at the park. Other notable cast members include Martin Starr (best known as Bill Haverchuck on “Freaks and Geeks“), Ryan Reynolds (National Lampoon’s Van Wilder), Bill Hader (“Saturday Night Life,” Superbad) and Kristen Wiig (“SNL,” Knocked Up).
Mottola noted since the film is set in the late ‘80s, it could allow for younger and older generations to appreciate and relate to the situations. This rings true as Brennan finds himself in a love triangle, holding a bizarre job and living with his parents – a long way from his dreams of New York City – and as he learns that sometimes the wrong decisions lead you to the best endings.
“[The film] reassures us that while a college degree is not a free pass, there is always a way to get where you want to go,” junior communications and technocultural studies major Jessica Matasci said.
The film weaves in and out between painfully awkward romantic scenes to awesomely bad ‘80s hair and dance moves to getting your jollies from bumper cars and arcade games. The corn dogs and stuffed banana prizes may not be responsible, rewarding or particularly desired after a grueling four years in college – but as Adventureland indicates, it’s the most fun you’ll ever have.
Adventureland comes out on Friday at Regal Davis Stadium 5 on G Street.
ELENA BUCKLEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.