parks, like drive-in theaters, are a dying phenomenon we're
the last generation will enjoy. Sure, some kids in the year
2222 might be fascinated by the history, or enjoy them in some
retro way. But otherwise, they're like Arthur Fonzarelli: they're
importance in the world will go the grave with us. I'm not a
nostalgic person and I don't like looking in the rearview mirror.
Literally. That's how I cracked up the Ford Falcon, the Galaxie
500, and why I ride the bus nowadays.
Here in Denver, we
used to have two independent amusement parks within a few miles
of my home. Elitch Gardens was the bigger one with two wooden
coasters: Mister Twister and the Wildcat. They also had a theater
where Count Basie and Duke Ellington played. In the 90s, the
park moved downtown and became a boring, antiseptic Six Flags.
After the move, but before they redeveloped the old space the
rides got overgrown with weeds and graffiti, the peaks of its
rickety old coasters loomed over a semi-demolished ghost town.
It was probably a great place to get gangrene.
We still have Lakeside,
a 101-year-old park with a real steam-engine train, a 69-year-old
coaster called the Cyclone, plus the Wild Chipmunk, the Rock-o-Planes
and the Schlager Diskotheque. The Cyclone track lies over an
abandoned mini-golf course whose tiny castle and tunnels are
still there. It has mechanical brakes that require a worker
to pull really hard on a lever to slow the coaster as it reaches
the station. Once the cars are loaded, another worker releases
a second lever to let the coaster roll out of the station.
One night, as Mrs.
Filthy and I were boarding the Cyclone, one of the riders getting
off told the crew they saw a big hole in the track. While we
sat in the coast, a maintenance guy was summoned. He pulled
out a flashlight, walked around a little bit, shrugged and said,
"I didn't see anything." And away we went. The mystery added
a little extra tension to the already scary ride.
I love Lakeside.
I love how they slap new paint on the cracked and fading buildings
every year, how the plant beds are lush and weed-free in May,
and overgrown and dry by September. How the staff works hard
to keep up with replacing the tubes they can on the custom-shaped
art-deco 50s neon signs. It's cool how you can see one of the
owners in the park at night, watching the kids running around
and eating cotton candy. Mostly, though, I love how sweetly
sad Lakeside is. It pretends it's not getting older, not dying
out and not slowly becoming irrelevant. It's so happy to have
customers driving the few go-karts that still run, or to find
kids that don't think the Flying Dutchman is lame. You never
wait more than ten minutes to go on the Cyclone, it costs $2.50
to get in and an ice cream cone is $1.50. I remember a night
we went after a thunderstorm and about 50 of us had the entire
park to ourselves. Every fall when it closes I hold my breath,
hoping it'll reopen in the spring. That it won't be torn down
and made into condos or a Wal-Mart. Every spring, it reopens
with a few more bulbs burnt out, the snack stand looking a little
shaggier and one fewer go-karts on the track. But it reopens.
I even like the indifferent
teenagers working the rides in Kiddie Playland amid the overpowering
smell of industrial grease, ozone and pee. I wonder where Lakeside
falls in the heierarchy; is it a cooler or less cool job than
McDonald's? Does it pay more or less than being a boxboy at
King Sooper's? Would they hire me?
The really fucking
good Adventureland takes place in 1987 around Pittsburgh
in a park similar to Lakeside. Jesse Eisenberg is a guy just
out of college looking to piss away his summer before heading
of to some fancy graduate school in the fall. His parents have
money trouble, though, and he's forced to find a job to finance
his fancy education dreams. With no marketable skills whatsoever,
Eisenberg lands at the amusement park, working in games. In
the movie, manning the game booths is a lousy job compared to
operating the rides. In reality, working the food booths is
the shittiest work. Those guys would kill to work games even.
I suspect, though, that a movie about a guy toiling over a deep
fat fryer has no hope of being made. So, Adventureland
is about a carnie. Eisenberg is surrounded by other dorky collegiate
fuckups treading water at the amusement park. They know it,
but some have a plan to escape and some don't. They spend their
days mostly drinking and smoking pot.
Eisenberg is a virgin,
he says by choice, and I think the movie wants us to believe
that. He becomes smitten by Kristen Stewart, another carnie.
She's secretly having an affair with the hunky and married maintenance
man/rock star Ryan Reynolds. He's better looking than any of
the dorks at the park, and cooler because he's jammed with Lou
The first hour or
so of Adventureland, which is the slow unfolding of Stewart
and Eisenberg's relationship, is pretty fucking great. To Stewart,
Eisenberg is sweet and sincere, and a dork, while Reynolds is
cool and grownup, but wrong. It's sort of like the choice between
a big bowl of Captain Crunch and vermouth or Kashii for breakfast.
You know which one's better for you, but you still can't resist
the instant gratification. Eisenberg is in a role usually played
by Michael Cera: the nerdy, unsure young man. Except, director/writer
Greg Mottola doesn't leave him as annoyingly passive as these
types of character usually are. In most of these "sweet" romantic
comedies Cera/Colin Hanks sits around and gets shat upon until
some script-formula-defined moment of revelation. Eisenberg
isn't so passive, he actively expresses what he wants and pursues
it, even if it is awkwardly.
This type of movie
usually features a female lead who isn't like any real human.
She is some lonely screenwriter's idealized version of the girl
he never got. In Adventureland, Stewart is as fucked
up as any of the men. She's mostly screwing Reynolds out of
insecurity and low self-esteem. She has a self-loathing streak
as wide as my shitstains after enchiladas at Santiago's. She
likes Eisenberg, but would rather sabotage the relationship
than disappoint him. And she's pretty sure she'll disappoint
The strongest part
of Adventureland is Mottola's respect for his characters.
Secondary characters look like they will fall into a formula,
such as Margarita Levieva as the sexy, vacuous girl who bumps
and grinds at the Music Express ride. When she asks out Eisenberg,
I expected the usual: that he would lose his virginity to her,
regret it and anger Stewart. That didn't happen, and Levieva
proves to be more human than first impressions suggest. Similarly,
Reynolds' Lothario mechanic isn't a typical smug asshole. He's
a guy who knows that the kids working at the park will go somewhere
while he's stuck, telling his increasingly irrelevant bullshit
Lou Reed story to kids who are less and less interested. Rather
than try to undermine Eisenberg's relationship with his mistress,
he likes the kid enough to help him out. Mostly.
About 70 minutes
in, I thought Adventureland might be damn near perfect.
And then subtlety disappears as the plot machine takes over.
What was patient and amusing about Adventureland becomes
slightly forced and formulaic. Stewart and Eisenberg's romance
falters on a corny misunderstanding, things are said that will
be regretted, and everything gets patched up romantically and
conventionally. Worse, the characters stop behaving like the
unique individuals we're introduced to, and they start behaving
more like pawns of the plot devices. It made me care a little
less about the characters so beautifully developed, because
they become more like pawns of the script devices.
The amusement park
is a great setting for the movie. Like my beloved Lakeside,
it's a semi-sad relic trying just to survive and keep its guests
happy. It employs people who think a lot of themselves and who
want to escape. While it may represent adventure for the guests,
it means stagnant chore for the workers.
the movie in 1987 doesn't make a whole lot of sense, other than
maybe it helped Mottola place the events from his own life.
But he seems to forget some details. Beers in the movie are
pull-tabs, even though pull-tabs went out almost ten years earlier.
When Reynolds wows girls with tales of jamming with Lou Reed
it seems damn unlikely to me. By the late eighties, Reed was
pretty irrelevant, and most teenage girls had never heard of
him. The soundtrack is heavy on Velvet Underground and the Replacements.
Both are fine bands, and both likely staples for the intellectual
college crowd of the time. But they are also among the touchstones
of Ira Kaplan from Yo La Tengo, the band who does Adventureland's
music. While VU's Pale Blue Eyes is a pretty song, I
wonder if the more contemporary and really fucking great and
shambly REM cover that came out the year the movie is supposed
to take place would have been better.
is pretty fucking good. It's better written and deeper than
I expected, and it feels pretty damn real and sincere up until
it's last thirty minutes. I guess that's when Mottola was forced
to wed his memory to Hollywood formula and deliver something
the grassfuckers would understand. Four Fingers.
to tell Filthy Something?