Adventureland is writer-director Greg Mottola's follow up to Superbad, so I was expecting something in the same cinematic ballpark--maybe an 80's teen movie about horny kids trying to get laid at summer camp. Maybe a sweeter, slightly less kitschy Wet Hot American Summer with tons of hilarious vulgarity.
Totally wrong! It turns out writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg were completely responsible for the dirty jokes and horndog hijinks in Superbad, and Greg Mottola was responsible for the sweet, wistful tone that runs through the movie, and for Bill Hader.
Adventureland is in fact about horny kids trying to get laid while working crappy summer jobs in the 80s, but it has more in common with Mystic Pizza than Meatballs. The main guy, played by Jesse Eisenberg, is an earnest virgin who reads poetry for pleasure and wants to find love and become a journalist. He combines some of Michael Cera's awkward, funny sweetness from Superbad with Jason Biggs' nerdy desperation from American Pie that results in a sort of pot-smoking teenage Woody Allen. He was OK. There are references to local ethnic tension just like in Mystic Pizza, but here it's between Jews and Catholics instead of Portuguese and whatever those rich assholes were. WASPs?
Also: great soundtrack. Here's an interview with Greg Mottola about how he decided which songs to use. We've got The Replacements, Velvet Underground, David Bowie, and Husker Du, which is all fine, but seriously, how many teenagers in suburban Pittsburgh were actually listening to Big Star in 1987? Big Star certainly gained a larger following through the 90's and now everyone who likes REM or Primal Scream knows them, but back then, the defining characteristic of the band seemed to be their abject commercial failure. Yet we've got the cool amusement park girl listening to "#1 Record" on her parents' hi-fi. It reminded me of a scene in The Wedding Singer, set in 1985, when Adam Sandler's character, a Van Halen fan, says he's been listening to The Cure a lot lately. There's just no way.
Adventureland also features some Falco, Poison, and Foreigner, mostly played over the amusement park's PA system and by cover bands at local bars, so there was some representation of 80s trash pop reality.
My favorite part of the movie was Martin Starr as a wise-cracking Gogol fan (above). He also played one of the geeks on "Freaks and Geeks", the excellent Judd Apatow/Paul Feig-created TV show that aired in 1999-2000. Actually, Adventureland is like an continuation of that show if the nerdy characters had come back to Michigan after college and found each other again--it's the same combination of smart kids stuck somewhere they don't fit in, meatheady bullies, horniness, and lots of weed. Greg Mottola directed a few episodes of the show, which was also set in the mid 80s, so there you go.
Next, Mottola is directing a new movie by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost called Paul, about two British comic book fans traveling around the US which is pretty much guaranteed to be great.