Adventureland (2009): Directed by Greg Mottola

After directing the offbeat comedy “Superbad,” which was a huge commercial hit, writer-director Greg Mottola gets more serious but less impressive in both capacities in “Adventureland,” a formulaic youth movie of the pains of first true love.
Over a decade ago, Mottola made an interesting if flawed feature debut in “The Daytrippers,” which narratively is still his most original work. He then joined the Judd Apathow comedy factory and directed several episodes of his FOX TV show “Undelared,” which led to his breakthrough film, “Superbad,” scripted by Seth ogen and produced by Apathow.


Essentially a high concept picture, thematically speaking, Mottola’s third feature is his weakest, a combo of a overly familiar comedy about the anxiety of facing real adulthood and a sweet and innocent love story, set against the horrific background of an amusement park, where the protag and his cotterie hold wat could be described as jobs from hell.

Revisiting his past, Mottola pays tribute to a Long Island amusement park, where he worked while studying film at Columbia University in the late 1980s. The main reason to see this semi-autobiographical comedy about the coming-of-age of an uptight, intellectual young man is Jesse Eisenberg, who previously made a strong impression in Noah Bombach’s “The Squid and the Whale.”  In many ways, Eisenberg’s new character is a logical evolution of the one he played in the 2005 film, which was also based on its director’s personal experience.


“Adventureland” received its first screening at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival (in the Premiere section) to mixed critical reaction, and Miramax will release the picture in the U.S. April 3.  Co-star Kristen Stewart sored big in “Twilight,” and hopefully her fans will make a point ot check out her new, also angst-ridden picture.


Though billed as a comedy, there is not much humor in this ultra-familiar saga, in which all the characters are types, and most of the adults are stereotypes.  The film’s most colorful elements are its setting, an amusement park, and the wall-to-wall music, about 30 pop songs, which inject energy into the saga when it sags, which is quite often.  Unfortunately, “Adventureland” is straight and straightforward film about the pains of first true love, as experienced by two youths that are outcasts, albeit for different reasons.


Set in the 1980s, during the Reagan administration, defined by retro-conservative ideology and mainstream family values, the film ‘s text itself is a retro, revisiting the turf of John Hughes’ youth movies, while throwing into the mix a touch of Todd Solondz’s quirky sensibility, as manifest in “Welcome to the Dollhouse” and “Palindromes.”


A funky Pennsylvania amusement park, named Adventureland, defines the existence of the recent college graduate James Brennan’s (Jesse Eisenberg), a bright, sensitive kid who aspires to be a writer and attend Columbia’s prestigious school of journalism.


Disenchanted, James previously had big dreams to spend the summer on a life-altering trek through Europe that would initiate him into exciting adult life. But when his family suffers an economic downturn in the midst of the Reagan 1980s, James’ summer adventure boils down to a minimum-wage job manning a game booth so bankrupt, no one is even allowed to win the giant-ass stuffed panda.


In his day job, James has to put up with eccentric and demanding bosses, puking kids, horny teens, adult retards, dope-smoking and angst-filled co-workers, most of whom are more troubled than he is.  It takes about a reel or so to get to the essence of the film, which is complicated romantic triangle, at the center of which is a desirable young femme, Em Lewin.


Appearances deceive and predictably Adventureland isn’t quite what it seems to be on the surface. Behind the cloying cotton candy aroma, the grating disco songs and the pathological customers, there’s a whole other world of misfits, blessed (and burdened) by hidden dreams.  For these youths, real life begins after work, when they socialize, smoke dope, and dream about a more promising and fulfilling future.


Almost at first sight, James falls for Em (Kristen Stewart), the sexy, pouty, sharp-tongued arcade girl, not realizing that she is sexually involved with an adulterous married man (Ryan Reynolds), an immature man that nonetheless dispenses words of wisdom to the incurably honest and direct James of how to behave with girls—what to say and not to say, what to do and not to do, how to project a macho image, all in service of the ultimate goal: getting laid!


All the subplots and characters (by now clichés) of classic American youth movies are manifest in Mottola’s scenario, and disappointingly, he works with narrowly conceived types and stereotypes. This is particularly the case of the adult figures, including James and Em’s parents, who are  strictly caricatures, held in contempt by the director (who expects the viewers to share his approach).

The film is so predictable that no dramatic tension or suspense are built in the questions of would James pull a real man’s courage and reclaim Em as his lover, despite her dubious past, or whether or not he would go to New York on his own, defying his parents’ wish.


While Eisenberg nails the part and dominates every scene he is in with incredible authenticity, Kristen Stewart, who was so good in “Twilight” and “Into the Wild,” gives a limited performance, perhaps a result of the writing.




A Miramax release presented in association with Sidney Kimmel Entertainment of a This Is That production.

Produced by Ted Hope, Anne Carey, Kimmel.

Executive producers, William Horberg, Bruce Toll.

Directed, written by Greg Mottola.
Camera, Terry Stacey.

Editor, Anne McCabe.

Music supervisor, Tracy McKnight.

Production designer, Stephen Beatrice

Art director, Matthew Munn; set decorator, Cristina Casanas.

Costume designer, Melissa Toth.

Sound, Chris Gebert; supervising sound editor, Ben Cheah; sound designer, Damian Volpe;

re-recording mixers, Andy Kris, Volpe, Cheah.



James BrennanJesse Eisenberg
Em Lewin – Kristen Stewart
Joel Schiffman – Martin Starr
Paulette – Kristen Wiig
Bobby – Bill Hader
Lisa P. – Margarita Levieva
Mr. Brennan – Jack Gilpin
Mr. Lewin – Josh Pais
Mrs. Brennan – Wendie Malick
Francy – Mary Birdsong
Tommy Frigo – Matt Bush
Sue O’Malley – Paige Howard
Pete O’Malley – Dan Bittner
Mike Connell – Ryan Reynolds