April 4th 2009 Adventureland

When I heard the director of Superbad had another film coming out, I got pretty excited. Like most males my age, Superbad is one of my favorite movies. When I saw it in 2007, it was one of the first movies in a long time that made me laugh uncontrollably in the movie theater. I was pleased to see Jesse Eisenberg, the star of The Squid and the Whale, in the lead role, too. Based on the trailers for Adventureland, I didn’t expect a movie quite as funny as Superbad, but I did expect the same fun, “nerdy”, and sometimes sarcastic humor that characterized both Superbad and The Squid and the Whale. And that’s exactly what I got.

Adventureland is a pretty run-of-the-mill film. The plot is simple: it’s 1987, and James Brennan has just graduated from college with a completely useless degree in comparative literature. In the fall, he’s headed to New York City and the Columbia School of Journalism; as a graduation gift, he’s headed for a summer of European debauchery with his best friend, where he’ll hopefully throw off the yoke of his virginity. But then his parents drop a bombshell: his dad lost his job, and not only can he not pay for James’ vacation, but he can’t even help James with rent next year. Instead of a trip, James must take a summer job at a local amusement park.

You can probably guess what happens next: the job sucks, but James meets a really cool girl, Em, that promises to make the whole summer worth his while—assuming he doesn’t fuck it up by telling Em that his girlfriend just broke up with him, and he’s a virgin to boot (he does, but you saw that coming, too). And you can probably guess that of course the girl has some sort of hang-up that keeps her from completely falling in love with this nice, confidently cool humanities student. (How a heartbroken virgin can pull off an aura of coolness is beyond me, but somehow, James’ character still comes off as utterly believable. I guess he really is that cool.) Just as predictable is the fact that Em’ll fuck everything up by letting a bad-ass jerk take advantage of her insecurities, instead of going for the sensitive guy who likes her for her. But don’t worry: they’ll both probably realize their mistakes just before the closing credits, when James makes a heartfelt display of love. Why the guy always has to win over the girl, even when he’s not the one who really screwed things up, is beyond me, but Hollywood tropes are Hollywood tropes for a reason.

So okay, the film is utterly predictable. But one thing I realized while watching Adventureland is that it’s not always the end that matters: the ride counts for a lot, too. Adventureland is a sweetly funny film that held my attention for the entire 107 minutes. I probably laughed for a solid minute when Connell, the bad-ass maintenance man, described love as feeling like “every cell on your body is on fire”, to which James mumbled in reply, “Well, that’s a bit hyperbolic…” Adventureland is just that kind of film. Much like Superbad, Adventureland is squarely aimed at the intellectual nerds who just aren’t quite hip enough to get the girl every time—guys like me, in other words. Most of the jokes are of the quiet, intelligent variety that only dorks will truly appreciate, but they give us hope that if we just embrace our dorkiness, we, too, can snag that pretty girl of our dreams.

Compared to Superbad, Adventureland is more serious—and bleaker. But isn’t this simply an accurate portrayal of real life? At the end of high school, the future looks bright, and anything is possible; in the short-term, college represents four years of freedom, intellectual growth, and personal development. If at the end of high school, the glass of life is half full, then it’s half empty by the end of college: the fun times are over, real life has set in, and doors to other paths in life have begun closing faster than they are opening. By now, society demands that we have found ourselves, and settled down into our proper roles for the rest of our lives. The time for personal discovery through beer, sex, and Bob Dylan is over.

Ultimately, Adventureland doesn’t quite measure up to Superbad. Adventureland’s ending, if you haven’t gotten the picture yet, is tritely stereotypical. In my opinion, Superbad had a much better conclusion: no one loses their virginity (instead, everyone just pukes); Seth and Evan realize they’ll always be friends, but romance and women will ultimately play a much greater role in their lives. (An ending that’s especially poignant for me, given that I’ll be attending my childhood best friend’s wedding in three months.) But as an unemployed college graduate, Adventureland does have a romantic, if saccharine, message: no matter how rough life gets, that one special person can make it all worthwhile. I didn’t laugh as hard as I did when I saw Superbad, but I’ll definitely watch Adventureland again—and again and again, most likely.