After cutting his teeth in the pressure cooker of American television as the director of Arrested Development, Greg Mottola exploded into feature films with Superbad, a film that drew critical acclaim, box office dollars and a hefty portion of DVD sales. It is very rare that an apparently broad coming of age comedy about three guys trying to get with girls impresses the reviewers in the worlds press and also keeps the money counting suits in Hollywood happy. Performing this miracle balance of achievements has resulted in Mottola being given the freedom to write and direct his latest feature, Adventureland.
Throughout production, the director has made no secret of the fact that this is a coming of age comedy based loosely on his upbringing, using the experiences of himself and friends around him. This could set strike fear into some that this is nothing more than a self indulgent exercise in film making, or that it is just Superbad circa 1987. It opens the heart break of our protagonist, James Brennan (Eisenberg), as a girl he has met a few weeks ago at college dumps him in the middle of a house party, right before they all graduate. This leads to a discussion about it with a friend, that leads to the news and the *gasp* first sign of a cliché in a comedy about teenagers, he’s a virgin!
Events unfold that mean that James needs to get a summer job to afford to go to Grad School. A small (both in size and aspirations) theme park called Adventureland offers the only quick solution to money. The park is owned by a couple, Bobby and Paulette, who are masterfully played by Saturday Night Live players Hader and Wiig. As with Superbad, it is Hader uses the most of his screen time to establish his character and draw laughs from apparently nowhere.
Working at Adventureland exposes the intelligent James to all manner of personalities that he would have been shielded from in the campus environment of his college, both good and bad. There is Mike Connell (Reynolds) the cool maintenance man in the band, Lisa P (Levieva) the lust object for all male park workers, Joel (Starr) the super geek game attendant, Tommy Friggo (Bush) the immature childhood friend and Em Lewin (Stewart) the cool love interest. The reason I have listed the main characters in this review, is to illustrate how engineered the synopsis and overview of this film could appear at a first glance.
But fortunately, it is not forced. In fact, this movie is funny, emotional and dare I say it, more in touch with its characters than Superbad. The people look flat and plain when written down, but they are used to great effect, each one interacting with others in a real and believable way. Relationships form, break and rebuild in ways that most people who have had a summer job they did just for money will recognise. And although James is a virgin, the film doesn’t concern itself with his quest to lose it, but rather harnesses itself around the naivety his situation brings.
Unfortunately, the blessing of nailing his feature debut will also mean that people will visit their local multiplex automatically using Superbad as a reference point. Which I’m afraid I did as well (sorry Mr Mottola). And the answer to the comparison is that it is not as full of belly laughs as the previous film, but it packs in a lot more that come from riffs on realistic situations therefore giving it more heart.