So, on Monday, Joe and I saw Adventureland. I was really looking forward to Adventureland — or at least I thought I was. The truth is, I was really looking forward to the Adventureland soundtrack circa 1987, and therein lies the error of my ways – rather than sitting through a rather bland coming-of-age tale of would be grad students discovering that their undergraduate degrees have left them with no skills, and no training, qualified only to be carny barkers at a park that looks like a low rent Hershey Park, I should have simply popped my Pretty in Pink cassette tape into my dusty tape player. The movie had problems with pacing, like a broken merry-go-round, it began in fits and starts. But, the primary problem is sadly with the hero, director Greg Mottolo’s alter ego, James. While James is likeable enough, he’s got it all wrong – “coming of age” isn’t when you lose your virginity, it’s that “I’m not a kid anymore” moment – true, different for all people – but ultimately, it’s when you discover your parents aren’t perfect, they’re only human, and from here on out, I really have an obligation of self-responsibilty — parental financial support is a generosity, not a right, and getting a summer job, or any job for that matter, should not be viewed with bitterness and spite, but with a “that’s life” attitude – we all have to work, bozo, and no parent has an obligation to send their kid on a summer jaunt through Europe, or to foot the bill to an Ivy League grad school. James has an unalterable attitude of entitlement, and that he has been somehow woefully wronged. Even in the end, when James wrecks the family car, he looks to his father to take the blame because it was his father who left the bottle of alcohol in the car, that James was somehow forced to imbibe, and crash the car. Dude, it’s on you, don’t look at him. Your parents have done nothing to you, get over it.
So James, to come of age, must lose his virginity, and because James is the last sensitive man standing, James must be in Love, and therefore, to lose his virginity to the girl of his roller coaster dreams, to the ever pouty Em, he must be in love with her – and frankly, this love is unbelievable, and another reason why the movie doesn’t work. The only thing James and Em have in common is their disappointment in their “pathetic” parents, who have let them down in every way. And, since they’ll never get over that — Em will never see what a tragic figure her father really is, or that his actions were not to spite her, but to spite himself — and actually come of age, maybe they are perfect for each other.
Adventureland purports to capture the essence of 1987 – and sure, the music is there – as Rock Me Amadeus blares in the background, as are the leggings, the bad hair and Reagan on the t.v. – but these self-absorbed, spoiled kids who are really too smart and too clever for their own good – could easily find themselves in a Juno ripoff Comcast ad. There’s nothing that roots them in time and place in 1987 – and for me, that was a disappointment.
My last disappointment was the seriously and tragically underused talents of Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig. Hader and Wiig provide the only levity in an otherwise self-absorbed “why me?'” movie – and they really provide the answer – as James whines over and over “woe is me, why me? how did I get stuck here,” the answer is simple – why not you, eh?