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Perfecting Teen Angst: Greg Mottola’s “Adventureland”

Perfecting Teen Angst: Greg Mottola's "Adventureland"

[Editor’s Note: Eric Kohn reviewed Greg Mottola’s “Adventureland” during indieWIRE’s coverage of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. Miramax Films is releasing the film this Friday.]

Nobody really expected Greg Mottola to screw this one up. The “Superbad” director makes a triumphant return to Park City (his debut, “Daytrippers,” played at Slamdance a decade ago) with one of the sharpest coming of age movies in years. No hyperbole there; despite the implications of his resume, Mottola is something of an antithesis to the Judd Apatow oeuvre, creating smart comedies where the humor emerges from the naturalism of his highly complex characters.

Set in 1987, “Adventureland” centers on a broke college graduate (Jesse Eisenberg) in need of a summer job to pay for grad school. Winding up at the eponymous theme park, he develops a fragile relationship with one of his troubled co-workers (Kristen Stewart). Conventional relationship issues eventually emerge, but Mottola refrains from overplaying the drama or hammering down on the formula. With a gentle, almost Altmaneque touch, Mottola guides a talented ensemble cast through his undeniably sharp script. The score by Yo La Tengo, coupled with a delicious soundtrack of classic eighties hits, provide a nifty supplement to this infectious romance. Mottola doesn’t simply enjoy teenage angst–he gets it (even the awkward makeout scenes are well-choreographed).

Stewart, now basking in the monumental success of “Twilight,” finally reaches her understated potential, while Eisenberg remains his predictably klutzy self. A supporting cast, including Bill Hader and the delightfully geeky Martin Starr, keep the side stories in check. It’s impossible to disregard the charm of “Adventureland,” despite its extreme overexposure. Now that Mottola has the limelight, he should get the chance to soak it in.

[Read Jason Guerrasio’s profile of Greg Mottola in indieWIRE.]

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