Director: Greg Mottola
Writer: Greg Mottola
Cinematographer: Terry Stacey
by Jon Cvack
I think this is probably the greatest post-college anxiety film ever made, yet I’m surprised by how many people either don’t like this movie, or don’t see it as anything special. I worked on the SeaDog at Navy Pier in Chicago during a shitty breakup during my junior year of college. For anyone that hasn’t been, Navy Pier is basically an Adventureland without the traditional rides. It’s a place to buy overpriced food and souvenirs, go on the Ferris Wheel, shop around, and ride one of the dozen boats or ships on the pier. My cousin had worked at the Spirit of Chicago as a Captain, and he got his brother-in-law a job, who then got me a job working the SeaDog which is a powerboat ride that offered a quick Chicago tour, heading to the North Shore and then down near Millennium Park and offering a few bits of Chicago history. It was a monotonous job. You were either giving a tour guide on the boat, or handing out fliers on Navy Pier.
Within days I had gotten on the bad side of one of the Captains, who loved the power he had over us deckhands, had a brohawk, and rollerbladed to work. He prevented me from becoming a tour guide, and therefore from riding the boat, forcing me to remain on deck while the other people I started with got a break from the monotony and brutal humidity and road out onto the Lake. Although there were random drug tests, there was a group that smoked weed every night after work, a creepy slimeball bro-ish deckhand who would have loved to bang any girl that worked the place and let you know it constantly, about four film students from Columbia Chicago, one of whom pretentiously brushed me aside when I inquired about his screenplay which he couldn’t talk about but could say that it was at least 400 pages long, a few Captains who were working their way through law school, and the random cute girls that all of us had crushes on. One in particular, a beautiful Australian girl who seemed completely out of the realm of possibility became my summer time fling complete with a bunch of surreal drama and a non-Hollywood ending. Long story short, we went on a date, kissed, the slimeball bro asked me what happened, began asking questions I didn’t want to answer, I laughed him off and ignored him, he took this as me hinting I had sex with the Australian girl, relayed that information to everyone, which got back to the Australian girl who then refused to talk to me for weeks, quickly ending the exciting and random fling, shortly after which she headed back to Australia. Adventureland, right?
Watching this, I relive that summer every single time. I smell the early Lake Michigan air and the boat exhaust, I recall the drama with the Australian girl and fights with the Brohawk Captain, and remember the good times all of us had. Unfortunately, I left about mid-summer to take an Internship at a non-profit, which was fully worth it, yet left me wondering what else would have went on had I stayed for the summer, or returned the next year. The job’s monotonous rigors created a bond between the deckhands. We all knew it sucked, but you never complained when riding that boat at night during the weekend fireworks, or afterwards when hit up the Billigoat Tavern for discounted beers.
The thing is I knew at the time that I was experiencing situations that were funny and frustrating and absurd and enraging that I would file away and look back upon any time I was need of great material. Adventureland’s James (Jesse Eisenberg) is an aspiring journalist, which was based on director Greg Mottola’s own experience (which I assume was the summer before he went to get his MFA at Columbia). So many post-college films present its problems as serious AND funny. Adventureland presents them as seriously funny and hilariously serious. Most of that’s because of the setting. It’s a hilarious and goofy environment, and the fact that it’s taking place twenty years prior allows us to see how times weren’t all that different from now. It allowed the movie to avoid the text messages and cell phone calls that a present day film would have required.
There are so many small and real moments that add to the story's depth, allowing you to compare them to your own summertime memories as a 'lost' twenty-something - the boner in the pool after a questionable encounter, the jealous friend who finally musters up the courage for confession and fails, the dad who’s furtively kicking back booze. It’s not that I can directly relate to any of these moments. It’s that they exist ever so subtly in the background, either noticed or not, though inevitably discovered on a second, third, or fourth watch, . There’s something very honest about the story, and as mentioned, it’s probably because this was based off a true story from Mottola's own life. I understand that most people haven’t worked a place like Adventureland. Maybe that’s why I’m so biased. It’s also the best part about those movies you love that other people don’t understand. It’s not whether it’s good or bad, it’s about the feelings and memories it invokes. Finding a movie like that is rare. Of all the movies I’ve re-watched over the last ten years, this is in the Top 10 Most Reviewable Films.
BELOW: One of those scenes that I can anyone who held a shitty summer job could relate to: the immediate after work gathering.
Thoughts on films, old and new
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