"It was while working on [TV series] ‘Undeclared’ that Greg Mottola came up with the idea for 'Adventureland,'" Jason Guerrasio wrote in his profile of Mottola for indieWIRE. "While trading stories about crappy first jobs with one of the writers, Mottola entertained as well as horrified the person with tales of working in a broken down amusement park. He gradually began writing a screenplay, 'in the spirit of a short story,' as he puts it, about drab suburban life and letting go of childish romantic fantasies to take that first brush with real intimacy."
Over six years and one "Superbad" later, Mottola's "Adventureland" (produced by Ted Hope, who was interviewed by indieWIRE blogger Matt Dentler a few days back) has been fully realized and is being released nationwide today to generally positive notices. indieWIRE's Eric Kohn reviewed the film when it premiered at the Sundance, noting: "With a gentle, almost Altmaneque touch, Mottola guides a talented ensemble cast through his undeniably sharp script." Another surprising comparison Mottola gets comes care of Philadelphia Weekly, where Sean Burns suggests the film "at times feels like a John Hughes movie directed by François Truffaut."
Most critics seemed to be quite surprised to find a much more heartfelt entry from Mottola after the often crass "Superbad."
The Village Voice's Scott Foundas was even also quite won over: "I've seen Mottola's movie twice, and both times, it has inspired feelings of joy, sadness, and a profound yearning for the unrecoverable past. Maybe I'm projecting too much false nostalgia onto this modest but poignant Gen-X touchstone, if not the '80s themselves. Or maybe, you just had to be there."
The nostalgia worked for New York's David Edelstein. "'Adventureland' hits home—at least my home," he wrote. "Mottola pumps up the soundtrack with music—The Replacements, Hüsker Dü—I listen to when I want that old eighties feeling. I actually have a James-like impulse to blab about my identification with the movie’s needy, overintellectualizing hero: I could feel in my bones his self-disgust as he lay on his bed in his parents’ house, alienated from their values and lifestyle yet comfortable, too. (He doesn’t have to pay rent.) What makes the movie such an unexpectedly potent little number is that Adventureland comes to stand for Stagnationland; the real roller coaster (i.e., life) is just outside the park."
Both Times' critics - New York's A.O. Scott and Los Angeles's Kenneth Turan - applaud Mottola's ability to bring something fresh to a predictable genre. Scott writes that the film "plants its flag in thoroughly explored territory, but that familiarity turns out to be integral to its loose and scruffy appeal. Somehow the story of a young man’s coming of age never gets old, at least when it is told with the kind of sweetness and intelligence “Adventureland” displays," while Turan notes that while the film doesn't "reinvent the wheel," "Greg Mottola has taken that most overdone of contemporary genres, the coming-of-age story, and made it engaging, bittersweet and even fun."
Selected other positive notices come care of Austin Chronicle's Marjorie Baumgarten (calling it "a confident return to the kind of teen comedy that's funny without being raunchy, youthful without being juvenile, and reflective without hitting you over the head"), The Hollywood Reporter's Duane Byrge ("with a keen affection for his own formative years, filmmaker Greg Mottola has crafted a funny and spunky amusement"), and The A.V. Club's Nathan Rabin ("'Adventureland' captures with humor and heart the way workplaces can become encapsulated universes with elaborate traditions, unspoken rules, and loose hierarchies).
Though "Adventureland" does have its (relative) detractors.Rolling Stone's Peter Travers says the film "throws a lot at us, but not enough of it sticks," while The Boston Globe's Wesley Morris says: "'Adventureland' means to provide a clearer sense of what "A film by Greg Mottola" means. But the forecast is 'hazy with a chance of cute.' It's the sort of flavorless, willfully quirky, occasionally amusing slice of suburban boredom that, for years, has given the Sundance Film Festival its soft, gooey center." Though neither review is entirely negative, and their criticisms are certainly in the minority.