I’ve been to a lot of theme parks in my life, and although I’ve now outgrown them in size – a 6’4″ frame makes for some very uncomfortable rides – I’ve always wondered what it would be like to work for one. I never had the opportunity or the inclination to find out for myself, but since moving to Southern California and being able to buy an annual pass to Disneyland, that interest has crept up once again. I recently bought a book titled “Mouse Tales: A Behind the Ears Look at Disneyland,” which details a lot of darker truths and untold stories about “The Happiest Place on Earth.” There are numerous interviews with current and former employees, in which they reveal secrets about what the Disneyland employee experience is like. It’s a great read that helps answer some nagging questions about what being a theme park employee is all about. Although I know Disneyland is unlike most amusement parks, it works as a written tale of the experience, whereas Adventureland gives you the fictional visual take.
James Brennan has just graduated from college and looks to take a trip to Europe before he comes back to start grad school at Columbia University. He receives a rude awakening from his parents over his first post-graduation meal. He needs a bit more money from them to fund the Europe trip, but it’s revealed that his dad has been transferred and demoted at work. This has a two-pronged affect on James’ plans. It means they can’t provide him with the required amount of money he needs for his planned vacation, nor can they pay for his rent during his upcoming school year. His European dream is effectively dead and if he wants to continue down the path to grad school, he must get a job over the summer.
Never having held a true job before, he doesn’t have anything on his resume except for his education and some neighborhood lawn-mowing duties. This makes him less than accessible for most employers and he ends up at the desperate-for-labor theme park, Adventureland. Even then he gets stuck in the park of the park he didn’t want, the games area. Joel, a pipe-smoking Russian literature major, introduces him to the scams of their area, including glued-on hats costumers are supposed to knock off mannequins heads and a ring-toss milk bottle game designed to be impossible even from three inches away. New co-workers are introduced to him as well, including Connell, the “legend” of the park, who has a band which has supposedly jammed with the likes of Lou Reed, but for some reason prefers to keep his job as maintenance worker at a theme park. James is also introduced to Em, a fellow games employee, long acclimated to her position, knowing it needn’t be taken seriously.
James is smitten with Em after she saves him from a shanking at the hands of a customer demanding a “giant ass panda” he’s not supposed to lose. She seems interested as well, spending some alone time together at a house party she hosts. They strike up a relationship and James confides in Connell his feelings for Em. What he doesn’t know is Connell, although married, has been carrying out an affair with the young Em, before and throughout James and Em’s relationship. The lesson James learns as a result of his relationship and his time at Adventureland could be more than any amount of time at grad school would’ve granted him.
Jesse Eisenberg stars as James. It’s a character he seems particularly suited for and has spent most of his career building toward. He played world-weary adolescent, seeking girl advice in Roger Dodger and was son to two intellectuals in The Squid and the Whale. James is the character he’d most likely grow up to be if he were to survive both films. I like what I’ve seen from Eisenberg, and I think he could do the more intellectual Michael Cera-type roles. Kristen Stewart continues her ascension as the love interest Em, and manages to convincingly convey attractiveness to James’ age, as well as Connell’s. Ryan Reynolds as Connell, although a smaller role, is significant and he’s no stranger to the wise veteran of a go-nowhere job, having played a similar character in Waiting. The acting was strong all around.
Adventureland was written and directed by Greg Mottola, who also directed Superbad. Due to his resume, you may be tempted to think this is a similar film to the Michael Cera/Jonah Hill-starrer. I wouldn’t blame you for thinking this way, especially after viewing the R-rated trailer. It’s obviously what the marketing department would like you to think, but you’d be wrong. This film is nothing like Superbad. Some of the humor may be foul, but it’s hardly an outright comedy. Most of the time it isn’t even gunning for laughs. It’s far more concerned with telling a coming-of-age story, which it does a decent job of. Mottola’s visual style isn’t flashy, but it’s effective. It’s suited well for this type of film and is fine for comedy, even if that’s not what the film is striving for. As long as you aren’t expecting a college-age sequel to Mottola’s last film, you might not be disappointed.
There are a lot of things I admired about the film. Set in 1987, there are a lot of 80′s-era clothing styles ported over to this, such as the off-the-shoulder hanging female shirts. One of James’ friends, Frigo, looks exactly like a Karate Kid-era Ralph Macchio. I enjoyed the depiction of how a bad day can affect one’s work performance during that time in one’s life. A lot of it rang very true. There were also things that seemed off to me, including the post-college setting. I was never truly convinced these characters were out of college, as opposed to just out of high school. A lot of the concerns the characters expressed were more of a post-high school kind, rather than the fear of having to find a career. Overall, however, I felt the good outweighed the not-so.
I enjoy the subject matter of films like these. The somewhat awkward male meets the experienced girl of his dreams. Adventureland reminds me of two movies I’ve seen recently in Youth in Revolt and The Wackness. In terms of quality, I think Adventureland is sandwiched between them. I like the nuances that came with the underbelly exposure of theme park employment, but the coming-of-age tale was less than revelatory. If you buy a ticket to Adventureland, don’t expect to be blown away with humor and excitement, but it can still be a decently fun ride.