MOVIE: Adventureland (2009)

A few weeks ago, when John Hughes died, it got me thinking about the difference between movies about teenagers or young adults when I was a teenager/young adult, and movies about that demographic now.  It seems to me the movies today that deal with that population, with some notable exceptions, of course, have gotten more focused on crass humor (Superbad‘s scene involving menstrual blood leaps right to mind) and scoring with chicks (the rest of Superbad leaps right to mind) and less on the actual interpersonal dynamics that are so complicated when we’re young.  Granted, I’m old now, so maybe I just can’t relate as well to the movies made for the kids these days.  But still, looking at the two sets of films side-by-side, what I see in terms of the plots, characters, and dialogue is empirically different.  Not that we didn’t also have crass chick-scoring flicks in my day, of course (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, e.g.), but I don’t remember finding even our crassest of teenage flicks half as vacuous and obnoxious as the majority of the ones I see today.

I had a good friend here from out of town this weekend, and she and I sat down to watch this movie Sunday afternoon.  We had just been talking earlier in the day about the impact John Hughes had had on us, and I think we both probably went into this movie expecting it only to further the divide.  After all, it was written by the same guy who directed Superbad, Greg Mottola, which may have had some “good heart” moments now and again, but predominantly left me pretty unimpressed.

Only about 20 minutes into Adventureland, though, I was thoroughly engaged.  What’s more, I was completely in love with every character in the movie, from the geek to the babe to the player.  Everyone in this movie has painful insecurities that absolutely shriek out of every pore.  In other words, everyone in this movie is utterly and completely REAL.

This movie is set in about 1987 (and yes, I recognize that only furthered my ability to connect) and is about a group of early 20-somethings who are all working at a local amusement park for the summer.  The main character is a young man named Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), who finds out at the beginning of the summer that his parents are no longer willing to pay his way through graduate school in New York City.  Desperate for money, he asks his friend Frigo to get him a job at Adventureland.  The job is everything you’d expect — awful, awful, awful.  And also, AWFUL.  But through that awfulness, the mostly-young staff begin to bond together pretty strongly.  Brennan becomes particularly close to a girl named Em (Kristen Stewart) who also works the games at the park (all of which are completely rigged, by the way.  I KNEW IT!).  The two begin falling in love, but not without a whole mess of painful complications.  In fact, if I had to describe this movie in two words, those two words would be “painful complications,” and that’s what made me love it so very, very much.

This is the first movie I’ve seen in at least a decade that actually made me reminisce about my early 20’s.  I seriously doubt I’m alone in feeling like the early 20’s are the hardest period in everyone’s life.  The most liberating period, but also the most utterly terrifying and disastrous.  All the worst things I have ever been through I went through in my early 20’s, and to this day a lot of those things still have me firmly in their grip.  But the best moments of that time were the moments when I was building relationships, both romantic and platonic.  Every romance I had in my early 20’s was fraught with emotional complexities, often irrational ones, and for two out of three of the most important ones, those emotional complexities shattered everything.  And yet — and yet — what a wonderful experience, as painful as it all was.  What magic to fall in love and feel so much that made so little sense.  What magic to come into adulthood, be on your own, feel the terror that comes from suddenly being the only one responsible for everything you do, screw up over and over, and still somehow manage to pull yourself through.  This movie, more than anything I have seen in years, brought me right back to that age and finally made me see it for what it was:  the time that builds you.

I wouldn’t want to be 21 again.  No, sir.  But I will confess that visiting it was pretty goddamn spectacular.

This movie is hilarious, clever, brilliantly-written, scored by a terrific soundtrack (my friend gasped and exclaimed, “Oh, that SONG!” like every five minutes, I swear) and absolutely packed to overflowing with heart.  Forget your reactions to Superbad — this is an entirely different beast.  I ordered a copy from Amazon the day after I saw it and had to resist the urge to have it express-mailed, that’s how eager I am to watch this movie so many times it becomes just as much a part of me as The Breakfast Club or Pretty in Pink.

Recommended like crazy.  And hey, Brennan?  I hope that when I’m dead, I’m fortunate enough that someone calls me “Henry” too.  Right on, man.

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre:  Comedy, Drama
Cast:  Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Martin Starr, Ryan Reynolds, Wendie Malick, Kelsey Ford

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7 Responses to “MOVIE: Adventureland (2009)”

  1. Alisa Says:

    Can’t watch it, I hate Kristen Stewart. I just can’t watch anything she’s in, she annoys the ever lasting crap out of me. I don’t think I’m even going to be able to watch the Joan Jett auto-bio movie, because Kristen Stewarts plays Joan Jett in that movie.

  2. megwood Says:

    I had only ever seen her in “Twilight,” I think, which was unwatchably bad in no small part because of her. I was pleasantly surprised by her in this, though. I actually couldn’t believe she was the same woman — had to go look her up to be sure!

  3. Lorraine Says:

    Meg, I’m so glad that you are giving this film some exposure. This is in my top 3 films of the year so far. It was so nice to watch a film with real human connection and story and humor and warmth! Eisenberg is an interesting actor and it was so nice to see him in a film that I actually wanted to watch. ANd Ryan Reynolds’ character is more nuanced than that role usually is depicted.

    If you only know Kristen Stewart from “Twilight” then please don’t judge her entirely on that (which I thought was awful). She’s quite good in this and a talented actress when she doesn’t get in her own way. She’s in a very small film called “The Cake Eaters” (directed by Mary Stuart Masterson) and gives a wonderful performance. I highly recommend the film.

    My wish is that her high profile gets people to see both “The Cake Eaters” and “Adventureland”.

    And don’t you want one of those “Rides, Rides, Rides” or “Games, Games, Games” t-shirts!

  4. megwood Says:

    “The Cake Eaters” sounds great — I’ll look for it at Netflix! And dude, I would totally buy a “Games, Games, Games” shirt. They should add those to their movie tee-shirt selection at!

  5. jo Says:

    OK, I finally got around to watching this (thank you, On Demand) and loved it. It probably helped that I spent my late teens/early 20’s working summers at an amusement park, albeit one much more on the up-and-up than Adventureland.

    Still hated Kristen Stewart, though. The stand-around-with-your-mouth-open-and-huff-once-in-a-while-to-show-you’re-a-deep-thinker thing just rubs me the wrong way. But I loved everyone else.

  6. megwood Says:

    Glad you liked it, Jo! The “huff once in a while” thing just made me laugh out loud!

  7. Wand Says:

    For the record, I’m not sure what Stephanie Meyer was thinking when she wrote breaking dawn. It’s good, just not Twilight or Stephanie Meyer good. Does anyone else agree with this Twilight quiz

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