by Jef Burnham
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Although the film is being advertised as a typical teen sex comedy, Adventureland is nothing like writer/director Mottola’s previous film, Superbad, which may disappoint audiences in general. But aside from a severe lack of jokes about male genitalia, which is all some folk are looking for, Adventureland surpasses Superbad in nearly every other way. Though widely accessible to a wide audience, Adventureland may be striking to those cursed with being teenagers in the 1990s in particular.
If you’re among this age group, you probably grew up watching The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and the like on HBO, or edited for television on a TNT or TBS. And if you did, chances are, your teenage years were plagued by the “John Hughes Syndrome,” which is characterized by a gross misunderstanding of how your teenage years are actually going to play out. We all wanted to go to summer camp, or detention, or do some crazy thing for summer where we overcome odds to meet the girl/boy of our dreams, overcome adversity, defeat the school bully, and have generally wacky adventures. But those things hardly ever happen, and not impressively or in abundance—not even in real life in the 80s!
Though latent, these fantasies remain even as we become adults adults, and from time to time we think that if we could do it all again, we’d be one crazy weekend or summer job away from a happy ending. Adventureland is set in 1987 and follows one crazy summer for recent college grad, Brennan James (JesseEisenberg, The Squid and the Whale), as he learns about life and love working at the title amusement park, and in many ways placates to those John Hughes fantasies. That is not to say it follows some trite formula. The film is very realistic, gentle and light on madcap exploits, not to mention follows characters in their early twenties, rather than their teens, which gives the film its wider appeal and accessibility. Plus, the soundtrack is pretty great, featuring random 80s hits with a heap of Lou Reed and punk thrown in.
Brennan, unlike your typical coming-of-age protagonist, is neither a stereotypical cool guy or loser. Sure, he rides on his book smarts and has no real skills for the workplace, but when it comes to women, he’s actually quite charming (though apt to blow it early on in the first date). The way in which Brennan’s relationships are handled is a sight more believable than, say, Sixteen Candles’ happy ending. Mottola uses the kiss in particular more realistically than most. Whereas the kiss often marks the end of Hughes’ (or Hughes-type) films as the payoff of a relationship, kisses come in the beginning of Brennan’s relationships, which grow or falter from there—the latter making the kissing a regrettable occurrence.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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