Adventureland: Inteview with Writer/Director Greg Mottola

Fresh on the heels of directing the runaway hit “Superbad,” writer-director Greg Mottola returns with ADVENTURELAND, a hilariously human, semi-autobiographical comedy about an uptight, overeducated young man whose lowly new “career” leads to the wildest ride of his life – a journey through puking kids, angst-filled co-workers and a dizzy-making romantic triangle — all the way to facing his own future with guts and optimism.

The idea for a merging a facing-adulthood comedy with a job-from-hell horror movie and turning the combo into a frank and funny love story with all the kick and sweetness of a pop song came from the mind – not to mention the past – of writer-director Greg Mottola, who himself worked in a Long Island amusement park while going to Columbia University in the late 1980s.

Since then, Mottola has, of course, taken a different career path. He came to the fore in 1997 by writing and directing the acclaimed indie comedy “The Daytrippers,” the wry recounting of a family road-trip to unravel the mystery behind a shocking love letter. That film went on to win the Grand Jury prize at Slamdance; the Special Recognition for Excellence in Filmmaking from the National Board of Review; and numerous other accolades. Mottola then began a fateful partnership with the high-flying comic team of Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen, directing several episodes of their Fox television show “Undeclared,” which led in turn to his directing the riotously raunchy yet true-to-life high school comedy “Superbad,” which Rogen wrote and Apatow produced.

With ADVENTURELAND, Mottola heads into an even more raw and honest style of comedy, this time based on the sweetly painful truth of his own post-college coming-of age. “The idea came to me when I was talking with a bunch of writer friends,” recalls Mottola, “and I was telling them these embarrassing stories about a summer in the ’80s that I spent as a carnie working at an amusement park on Long Island. It was the worst job I’d ever had, working in a booth where people shoot water into a clown’s mouth. My friend, Jenny Connor, thought they were really funny stories, and she said I should write about them. I’d never really considered it before that.”

Once he began to explore the idea, though, Mottola saw there was something there, something beyond just the absurdity of a highly educated young man handing out stuffed bunnies and subsisting on corn dogs. He saw the potential for a rousing, comic love story – one set in the rarely explored limbo between the fast times of high school and the descent into adult responsibility, a time when innocence and idealism are at battle with the realities of life, love and earning a living.

“It’s about a young guy who thinks his life is supposed to be something else, and what happens to him when he first enters some semblance of the real world in this very ridiculous job,” the writer-director explains. “The movie fits into this very small genre of stories that are about the worst summer ever turning into one of the most transformative experiences of your life.”

Throughout writing the screenplay, Mottola was inspired by his very own Adventureland – the one in Long Island, where he himself experienced several initiating encounters with the traumas and triumphs of growing up, and falling head over heels, on the job. “What I loved about the park is that it was a little rough around the edges, a kind of misfit world, and that’s the feeling I wanted to retain in the storytelling,” he notes.

“I always wanted this movie to have a bit of the feeling of a pop song,” muses Mottola. “On the surface, the emotions the characters are going through might seem incredibly commonplace, almost superficial. But, at the same time, these things are enormously powerful when you’re going through them. Finding your first love, losing that person, being disappointed, being deeply disillusioned by love, gaining an understanding of what intimacy actually requires – these things have a huge effect on your life. In ADVENTURELAND, I wanted to get at what that all feels like, because it’s something we all relate to and laugh about.”