Perhaps September in too early to make this claim, but I just saw one of my favorite movies of 2009: Adventureland, written directed by Greg Motolla. Motolla also directed Superbad, which was one of my favorite movies of 2007.
The movie’s marketing campaign has traded heavily on Superbad’s reputation — in fact, based on the trailer you would expect another crazy, crude, teen-movie romp. And I’m sure I would have loved that movie. But I’m here to tell you that Adventureland is absolutely nothing like the trailer would lead you to believe. Fortunately, it’s better.
Adventureland is a romantic coming of age movie much more closely related to Say Anything than to Superbad, or anything else from the Judd Apatow oeuvre. And the comparison to Say Anything is doubly apt. That movie is a 1989-vintage romantic comedy by another writer known for his deep connection to music. Likewise, Adventureland is set in period-perfect 1987 and has the musical chops to back it up.
The period detail was one of the things I loved most about this film. It’s not as perfectly authentic as a Mad Men episode, but nonetheless, the era of Adverntureland feels real. It gave me the feeling of the 1987 that I remember. Interestingly, it felt more genuine to me than a John Hughes film actually of that period (like Pretty in Pink, which we just re-watched a few weeks ago). The clothes weren’t ridiculous (for the most part), the script didn’t rely on too-obvious, too-dated slang, and the design touches seemed just right. Ultimately, like all the best 80s movies, it’s the music that truly sets the scene.
The soundtrack is the best part of a really enjoyable movie. Motolla uses music incredibly effectively to draw social and character lines. How else can you mix The Replacements, Whitesnake, Hüsker Dü, and Exposé in one soundtrack and have it come out making perfect sense and feel like a unified whole. It was a trip back in time.
The only bad news is that you can’t actually buy all of those great 1987 songs on the “official” soundtrack. Fortunately, I found a great post where someone had gone to the trouble of tracking down each and every song you hear in the movie. you can get most of songs on iTunes, and so that’s what I did. I built my own Adventureland soundtrack, and I’ve been having a fantastic 80s day ever since. I recommend you do the same. (And go watch the movie.)