Coming of Age in Adventureland


Ahh,,, The coming of age story. It is one of the most popular genres. Before media, coming of age was institutionalized in religious ceremonies (often with a little pharmacological input). In a quick turn around the interwebs, it appears that the concept is universal. In fact, 3.3 million years ago, our ancestors were already stretching out childhood as our minds took longer and longer to develop. Chimps brains are almost completely developed within 3 years. Humans take closer to two decades.

Archeology might posit that the delayed transition from child to adult was commensurate with the development of mind and culture. (Personally, I wouldn’€™t be surprised to find the shift fell from an early hominid penchant for the sticky icky.)

Kristen Stewart (Em in Adventureland) reenacts the early hominid breakthrough.

It is no accident that these personal stories resonate so frequently across boundaries, or that when we find a story close to our own, we cherish it with warm devotion. Either way, these tales have the deck stacked in their favor.

Adventureland is a softer side of the Superbad coin. Written and directed by Superbad’€™s Greg Mottola, it is set in a non-desrcript Pittsburgh and follows some 20-somethings through the summer of ‘€™87 at the eponymous ramshackle amusement park. It never strays far from the script, but it also never drops sincerity.

James just graduated from college and has his eyes on the standard issue backpack trip through Europe followed by a stint in Ivy League grad school. Monkey wrench! His parents can’€™t finance his faux intellectual hipster lifestyle. James rolls home, tail between his legs and, like many modern sagas, find himself without sail or rudder.

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Older tales would feature the youth confronted with trials and ordeals. Hercules, Theseus, or Galahad testing their strength and moral character. In the more recent era of The Graduate, Rushmore and The Goonies these tales shape a new ordeal. Reconciliation and putting aside childish things. Acknowledgement of the fucked up state of society, but a willingness to find a place in the world.

All of the characters, including the adults, in Adventureland are pulsating with this revelation. Like The Graduate, profession, future, romance and self are all at stake. Without a Minotaur what beast should we slay? Without a ritual, what tells a boy he is a man? It is almost post-modern. A self realization of an enmity in our social makeup towards passage, blessed or profane, becomes its own prize.

In the film, as in life, moments of separation and clarity are catalyzed by the green. As much of the characters’€™ lives are sprinkled with weed, so to is the essence of the film. In the same way Dazed and Confused introduced the concept ‘€œbe a lot cooler if you did’€, Advetureland puts the theory to practice. An affected deification of Lou Reed, with the proper mental alterations, becomes genuine as you are swept away in a Velvet haze. My own formative summer fits its teeth cogs right into the story. I get where they are coming from. The fellowship from a shared joint passed out of the screen.

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For the level headed, it is another, if less zany, coming of age story from the Superbad guy. For the high minded, it is Greg Mottola’€™s sincere take on coming of age. One that finds roots in a little indica.