The coming-of-age movie has been a fruitful genre for directors and Hollywood has certainly gone to that well more than its fair share of times. Traditionally, our protagonist is either going through puberty or is in high school. He often has trouble dealing with girls, his parents, and often bullies. (As a corollary, it's more-often-than-not a he instead of a she--but that discussion is for another day.) As the Judd Apatow fraternity has dominated recent American film comedy, the current crop of coming-of-age films has its adolescent/teenagers projected onto fully-grown, adult males. Like their much younger counterparts, these men are in many ways emotionally stunted and still need hand-holding, either by other, more experienced men, or by their smarter, more secure female partners.
But what of the in-betweeners? What happens when the teenager graduates to adulthood and realizes he still doesn't have a clue? Well, if your James Brennan, and it's 1987, and you just graduated college, and it turns out your dad got laid off and can't pay for your graduate school at Columbia, you search for a summer job. But the comparative lit major who "read[s] poetry for fun... sometimes" can't find a job. "I'm not even qualified for manual labor," he laments. So the only place left for him to go is the local amusement park, Adventureland.
Adventureland--the park and the movie--are populated with your standard cast of characters in a story of this type. There's the awkward lead, the a-little-too-nerdy sidekick, the older, more-experienced male figure, the hottie, and the girl he pines for. It also has your typical schtick--the crotch punching, kids puking, pot humor, etc. Yet Adventureland is grounded in a reality that is often atypical in the coming-of-age film. It's sloppier in the way these things tend to actually happen in real life.
A close friend of mine wrote on her blog:
There are people out in the world who do not realize they are already part of the world. I don't like how at graduations people always say you will be going forward into the "real world". I don't know about you but I have been living in the real world the whole time.
She's right; and what Adventureland also gets right is then when you're preoccupied with starting your life, you slowly begin to realize that it's happening right before you and you better damn well sure take advantage of that. Or as a much better writer than either one of us put it, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."
And while the Apatow hero is a man-child who is really too immature to make sense of what is going on around him, James has his head pretty squarely on his shoulders. He can engage in childish activities for sure (there's a decent amount of pot smoking on the job for one), but he's fairly secure enough in who he is that he doesn't need the hand-holding. He's a 22-year-old virgin, not a 40-year-old one and that makes a difference.
One of the other criticisms often levied on the Apatow-produced films is that the overgrown boys that populate them always end up with these smart, beautiful women who are generally out of their league. It's a criticism with which I don't fully agree, yet it's a point-of-view I can understand. Here, and despite his minor social awkwardness, you never feel that James couldn't end up with his work crush, Em, or get a date with the park beauty, Lisa P.
Thus, Adventureland drifts away from the sort of slacker/loser comedies into which many of these films cross over and it evolves into a more sincere (and damn funny) exploration of a time in a young person's life when he realizes that while some doors close, others will open at the same time. Or as a fellow I once knew put it, "Life is a roller coaster, just make sure you have a bag to throw up in along the way." I never really liked that guy.
Adventureland (Greg Mottola, 107 m)