Adventureland is set in 1987, the same year that John Hughes released his last coming-of-age drama, Some Kind of Wonderful, which is a total coincidence but an appropriate one. While Hughes never again delivered a classic on par with The Breakfast Club or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, it’s possible that with Adventureland, writer-director Greg Mottola has.
Okay, that’s probably excessive praise. For Mottola to fill Hughes’ shoes, he would have had to depict today’s kids, which he sorta did in Superbad — and ended up with something funny but, at times, tediously vulgar. (In fairness, Mottola only directed Superbad; Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg wrote it.) Despite that film’s surprisingly sentimental conclusion, it didn’t feel like a natural follow-up to Mottola’s 1996 tragicomedy The Daytrippers, which remains one of my favorite films of that decade (and criminally unreleased on DVD).
Greg Mottola Photo Courtesy Abbot Genser/Miramax FilmsAdventureland‘s appeal is, instead, about the past. It’s like the next best thing to finding a never-released Hughes or Cameron Crowe film. The plot unfolds thusly: a college grad (The Squid and the Whale‘s Jesse Eisenberg) takes a summer job at a crappy amusement park where he crushes on his troubled coworker (Twilight’s Kristen Stewart, whose cuteness here is appropriately unfussy) and learns about life via subplots that involve parental malfeasance, alcoholism, and sex. In the meantime, he befriends several of the park’s oddball employees, one of whom is played by the sadly underused Apatow alum Martin Starr (a.k.a. Haverchuck, the best character from Freaks and Geeks).
The titular amusement park rivals Hughes’ high school library as the perfect setting: It’s a place that kids outgrow but like to debase a little before they leave. Naturally, every second of that debasement is amplified by a good soundtrack, which features songs that have benefited from the intervening two decades. No one back then had the foresight to choose the Replacements’ “Unsatisfied” as a climactic love song. Even the irritating “Rock Me Amadeus,” used as the park’s recurring theme song, fits in charmingly — I can almost remember riding the Scrambler while listening to it, even if I never did.
So, yeah, Adventureland didn’t need to take place in the ’80s. But unlike last summer’s The Wackness, which was so weighted down with I Love the ’90s trivia that it couldn’t transcend its nostalgia, it’s actually more pleasurable for it.
WATCH: Adventureland Trailer: