So I watched Adventureland the other day. It’s a sort of prequel to The Social Network, released in 2009, where Zuckerberg has to raise funds for Harvard by working in a crappy amusement park, and he starts dating a girl who ends up dumping him for a vampire. Presumably because she likes pale, skinny guys, and that was the next step after a computer nerd.
Lulz, but seriously. Adventureland is really a pretty great movie. I’d heard it was good beforehand, and so had raised expectations from the outset, but it’s definitely one of those movies that would be best if you just discovered it while channel-hopping or as a chance download. So by writing this, and raising your expectations, I’m actually making the viewing experience worse for you. Ha! If I can’t enjoy it at its best, nobody will!
Not everyone will love it though, I’m sure. It depends on your tolerance for American teen/slacker movies, particularly those on the more intelligent, angsty and less sophomoric end of the spectrum1. Personally I love them, and have done since I watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off as a young teenager myself. A film that remains my favourite of all time. It’s not a novel observation, but one worth repeating, that the movies (and other works of art and entertainment) which mean the most to you tend to be those you see when young, particularly ones that come out of the blue and connect on an emotional level.
Adventureland didn’t have the effect that Ferris Bueller’s Day Off did on me, but I can imagine how it might do for someone else, at the right age and right place in their life. It’s got the same sense of fun and pathos, and mix of irony and unguarded emotion that I loved about that film. The writer/director, Greg Mottola, also directed Superbad, which I’ve heard is also an impressive example of the genre, albeit more on the more crude Apatow/Rogen side of things that I’m not as keen on. I’ve someone conspired never to have seen Superbad, despite it being a much bigger hit that Adventureland, but I guess now I’ll have to check it out.
There are a couple of characters in Adventureland though, Bill Hader’s and Matt Bush’s, who seem to have come out of a completely different, broader and more Apatow-esque film. As it is, they both serve well enough as comic relief from the more low-key performances around them, but they do jar at times. Not enough to spoil anything, but enough to make me wonder if it they were directed to act like they do, or if they just misinterpreted the script, or what? With Hader’s character in particular, you can see where the role could easily have been played straight, by some older, more grizzled character actor. Maybe Mottola just figured it would be useful to have a few wacky moments to throw in the trailer and pull in the dick jokes crowd.
I’ve often though there’s a case to be made that high-school/teen movies are one of the most important and effective means that Hollywood has of critiquing American society and human nature in general, drawing parallels with the use of children in films in Iran. I’ve often thought it would make a good subject for a really good piece of written journalism or a documentary. As it is, this rambly blog post isn’t the place to attempt it, but check out Adventureland if you get a chance. It’s good.
1. The characters of Adventureland are in their very early twenties, but it still feels very much a part of the teen film genre.