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Take a Quick Trip to Adventureland

April 26, 2009

Amusement park

All it took for James Brennan to appreciate his job at Adventureland was a pretty young woman named Em, a knife and a giant-ass panda.

Working at Adventureland might be just a little different from the summer in Europe Brennan had planned, but with his father’s move to a lesser-paying job, the fresh-out-of-college student either takes the amusement park job or risks not being able to afford to study journalism at Columbia University.

Adventureland takes place in the summer of 1987.  Reagan makes an appearance on TV, ‘80s fashions are – of course – in full effect, and throughout the course of the movie, we hear more than 40 bangin’ pop and rock songs from that most awesome of decades.  Still, don’t think that setting this 107-minute comedy in 1987 was just an easy way to assure the soundtrack will be full of totally tubular ‘80s hits.

Director Greg Mottola actually worked at the real Adventureland, an amusement park in New York that has served Long Island since 1962.  Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) got a concussion on the teacup ride at the park when he was 6.  It’s too bad he doesn’t enjoy it as much as we do, but given his circumstances, you could understand why he finds the job depressing to the max.

Amusement park 2

Brennan, a star student, comes home from college and — actually, we’re just going to let him explain it himself (from the movie’s Web site):

“…instead of backpacking across Europe, I’m now stuck working a summer job at a run-down amusement park.  Hooray for me.  Though I am learning a lot about vomit, corn dogs, and why college is essential to my continued survival – and there is a really pretty girl who works rides – it’s still not really the summer I had in mind.”

His summer looks like it’s going to be a bummer; it’s definitely going to take him outside of his comfort zone.  As he points out, he reads poetry for pleasure sometimes—what’s he doing in this amusement park?

He gets a better idea on his second day of work in the games department when he’s forced to give one man who cheats at an impossible-to-win carnival game a giant-ass panda after being threatened with a knife.  Another park worker, Em, saves him from the ugly situation and what started out as a summer of wallowing in self-pity.  He’s taken by her and, as he gets more experience working at Adventureland, makes it his goal to win her over despite however dramatic and tangled her life might be.

While he falls in love with Em, the rest of the park workers are introduced, a generally superb acting crew that help make Adventureland just as endearing, funny, and perhaps a bit warmer than Superbad, which was also directed by Mottola.

No doubt inspired by Mottola’s own Adventureland experience and amusement parks everywhere, most of the games in Adventureland are fixed.  From the glued-on hats of the mannequins in “The Flighing Dutchmen” to the basketball hoop that – up close – is revealed to have been hammered into a smaller oval, the details that form Adventureland are a treat to watch.

Without Brennan and his Love Quadrangle in the foreground, however, these machines might as well be left to rust in a corner. Even through college, Brennan has had little dating experience but, as we learn, he treats women with respect.  The same could not be said of the other man who is also vying for Em’s attention.  After Em and Brennan get in an argument, he must decide whether to accept the invitation for a date from Lisa P, the girl every guy at the amusement park wants to, err, date.

“[Lisa P.’s] ass is a platonic ideal,” says Brennan’s friend Joel (Martin Starr), who majored in Russian literature in college.

Amusement park - 2

After Brennan makes his decision about Lisa P., he still must figure out whether to pursue Em who, now that summer is ending, is going back to New York University.  That, on top of the fact that it’s still not clear whether Brennan will have money for Columbia, adds up to plenty of conflict to keep an audience engaged.

Brennan’s clearly not getting the summer in Europe he wanted, but at Adventureland maybe he’ll get the summer he really needed.

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Special thanks to ZaCky ॐ and ZeHawk for the amusement park photos.

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