‘Adventureland’ – A Ralph Report Video Vault Selection

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written back in 2010. I applaud Eddie Pence for featuring this as a Video Vault selection on “The Ralph Report.”

It’s always those low paying jobs you had as a teenager during the summer months which helped mold you into the person you are today. It sucks how it takes you another decade or so to realize this upon closer reflection. Being there at the cash register, ringing up orders for customers in the real world, this all shows you things people they don’t teach you in high school or college. So yes, even those cumbersome jobs I had such as cutting the guts out of fish, teaching little kids how NOT to fish (and they still didn’t listen to me), shoveling popcorn constantly to where I came home reeking of it, and selling overpriced drinks at the movie theater (because that’s where they get their profit from folks) made me wise up to things which would eventually benefit me later in life. It also taught me how to take control and responsibility for my life. Still, it would have been nice if they paid me more an hour. Minimum wage was around four dollars back then. I wouldn’t be able to live on that today.

Adventureland” follows the exploits of James Brennan who is forced to take a summer job upon graduating from Oberlin College. His dad just got laid off to where neither of his parents will be able to support him financially either for the summer vacation in Europe he was hoping to take, or for his first year at Columbia College where he was planning to study journalism. Despite gloating over the great vacation he cannot go on now, James applies for different jobs around his hometown, but even his impressive transcript from Oberlin can’t land him a decent paying job. Adventureland Park, however, is hiring just about anyone with a pulse who fills out an application. Heck, I bet they even hire people they call the cops on! James tries to get a ride operator position, but managers Bobby and Paulette (played by Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig) are convinced he is more of a games person, so he unenthusiastically takes on the job only out of a financial need.

This is one of those movies which unfortunately got lost in the shuffle due in part to Miramax’s promoting it in the wrong way. The posters kept screaming out how it was from the director of “Superbad,” Greg Mottola. But despite the fact both movies have the same director, they are very different from one another. While “Superbad” was a broadly comic farce (one of the most gut-bustlingly hilarious ones from this past decade might I add), “Adventureland” is more of a serio-comic story and one of the more realistic coming of age movies I have seen in a while. Don’t get me wrong, there are some very funny moments to be found here, but you really can’t walk into this movie expecting another “Superbad.” If you do, you will be disappointed for all the wrong reasons.

The Adventureland Park itself is like one of those travelling carnivals you see come into town once or twice a year. You know, the ones with those rides which are in a constant state of disrepair which no cleverness can ever hide. The games they have like the ring toss and dart throwing are all designed to be unwinnable. This doesn’t stop people from still paying to play them though, hence the profit. Plus, like all amusement parks, they play the same damn songs over and over to where the employees are driven to insanity. I remember working at a park like this once, and I endured the same exact daily irritations. Where James and his colleagues have to listen to Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” every other five minutes, we kept getting subjected to Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers… Well actually, I do like Tom Petty, but I just realized I don’t listen to him as much as I used to.

I love how “Adventureland” gets all the specific details down to where it resembles just about any job I could have had as a youth. I actually worked at Disneyland for a couple of years myself, and while Adventureland is a pale imitation of it, many of the same rules I lived under were reflected by the park employees here. What this park has over that corporate monolith, however, is that the rules are much looser, and the working environment is nowhere as stressful.

Jesse Eisenberg plays James Brennan, and right now he is going through that Michael Cera phase of playing the young adult who is not always of sure of what he is supposed to say, think or do most of the time. He is best known for starring in “Zombieland” opposite Woody Harrelson or from “The Squid & The Whale” where he held his own opposite the great Jeff Daniels. Eisenberg is perfect as James in how he finds things to savor at Adventureland even though he would rather be vacationing in Europe. He never overplays or underplays the part to where he becomes ingratiating to watch. Somehow, this actor finds the perfect note to play James to where we like this guy and want to follow him on his post-graduate summer from start to finish.

The other big star here is Kristen Stewart who we all know of course from those darn “Twilight” movies. I haven’t seen any of them but, from what I have been told, I haven’t missed much. My friends keep telling me Stewart cannot act and how she looks all vacant whenever she is onscreen. Well, they didn’t check her out in “Adventureland” because her talent really shines through. Her character of Emily Lewin is the most complex here as she is dealing with a lot of problems which make her yearn for an escape out of town. Emily’s dad is actually a rich lawyer whom she resents for remarrying so soon to a woman she cannot stand. She really doesn’t need to work a part time job, but she does so just to get out of the house. Her methods of escape end up getting her into a relationship with Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds), a married man who also works at the park.

Stewart does great work in portraying a character who yearns to be with someone who really sees her for who she is, but ends up running away from that particular someone when she becomes seriously afraid of messing everything up. You care about Emily because we can all relate to being confused about our place in life and of wanting to escape an environment which feels too confining. As a teenager, you can really feel like a prisoner in your hometown, especially if you don’t have a driver’s license. There are only so many places you can go to, and there is a strong need to break the boundaries holding you back. Stewart and the rest of the cast really show this throughout.

Another actor I want to give a lot of credit to is Martin Starr who plays Joel, the sarcastic co-worker who shows James around the park and makes him see how everything works. Starr has an amazingly dry sense of humor which has served him very well ever since appeared on the depressingly short-lived show “Freaks & Geeks.” This role is perfect for him as he embodies the antisocial misfit we remember from school, and who proves to be far more interesting than the jocks who were the stars on campus. Starr also gives his role an unexpected depth as we see him getting involved with a girl who ends up thoughtlessly rejecting not for who he is, but of what she and her family sees him as. It’s one of the film’s most honestly painful moments which rings true in ways too real to discuss openly.

And, of course, I can never get enough of Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, some of the funniest people working today on “Saturday Night Live.” They are great together as the managers of this barely average amusement park and provide some of the biggest laughs as they take care of business as professionally as they can. Just make sure not to litter around Hader’s character because this will set his fuse off almost immediately,

With “Adventureland,” Mottola really captures how those jobs we worked for little money growing up toughened us up and helped in our evolution. I think it will be seen in the future as one of the most vastly underrated coming of age movies ever. It deals with the painful truths of growing up, and of experiences we had which molded the way we think and acted from there. Hopefully it will find the audience it deserves on cable and physical media. And for those of you who still think Kristen Stewart cannot act, get a clue, please.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

100.3 The Sound Has Done Left the Building

The Sound does not validate

Many of you are probably reading this and saying, “Oh lord, is he going to talk about this radio station again?” Yes, I am.

At 1 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on November 16, 2017, 100.3 The Sound, the beloved FM radio station, ceased operations after finishing up the second side of The Beatles eleventh studio album, “Abbey Road.” Uncle Joe Benson, in an interview with CBS, said this album was chosen to close out the station because of its last set of lyrics from “The End.”

“The lyrics are, ‘The love you take is equal to the love you make.’ To me, it’s very heartfelt,” says Benson. “It’s how I view the music and how I view the audience.”

Once “The End” concluded, Andy Chanley came on the air to say, “This has been KSWD Los Angeles. This is The Sound. And this dream will self-destruct in three… two…” And with that, we were greeted with silence, and The Sound was no more.

Indeed, the last line of “The End” featured the perfect lyrics to end 100.3 The Sound’s nearly 10-year-run on as this station gave out a lot of love to its listeners, and it received even more love right back from them. This was especially evident as the station has been deluged with emails and messages left on their voicemail saying how much they love The Sound and how sad they are about it going away. For many, The Sound filled the void left by KMET, “The Mighty Met,” which itself was a pioneering station of the underground progressive rock format. With The Sound, Program Director Dave Beasing and the DJs aimed to bring back the spirit of KMET for a new generation of listeners and, to hear all the comments from The Sound fans, they truly succeeded.

In addition to Chanley and Benson, the other Sound DJs, Rita Wilde, Gina Grad, Cynthia Fox and Mimi Chen were on hand to celebrate the station’s last day and play some of their favorite songs as their way of saying farewell. For Chanley, he chose Neil Young’s “Thrasher,” and Grad played Three Dog Night’s “Shambala” as it never failed in put a smile on her face. Chen played Crosby, Stills and Nash’s cover of The Beatles’ “In My Life,” and then Fox followed with The Who’s “Pure and Easy” which she said “really captures the power of music to heal, transform and inspire the community.” Wilde chose an especially upbeat song by Bruce Springsteen, “Wrecking Ball,” and she described it passionately:

“It’s not a sad song, you get to get up and dance. Just remember, be grateful, be thankful and be good to each other.”

Benson then wrapped things up with Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll,” and he told audiences to “turn this sucker up.” It was great to hear this song played here instead of in a car commercial where it has no place.

The last 90 minutes of The Sound featured songs reflecting the emotions of this final goodbye in its staff and loyal fans. “The Sky is Crying” by Stevie Ray Vaughn & Double Trouble spoke of the inescapable sadness we all have been feeling since this station was sold, and the lyrics “can’t you see the tears running down my nose” were ones its devoted listeners could relate to now more than ever. “Once in a Lifetime” by the Talking Heads features the lyrics, “You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?” These lyrics have even more meaning for me today than they did when I first listened to the song. But one song I was especially happy to hear in the closing minutes was Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll” as its lyrics summed up this station’s mission as well as the feelings we have about present day music:

“Call me a relic, call me what you will.

Say I’m old-fashioned, say I’m over the hill.

Today’s music ain’t got the same soul.

I like that old-time rock and roll.”

While other stations were eager to play the next big thing in music, The Sound was more than happy to revel in rock of the past as the songs of right now can’t even compare. I fell in love with The Sound before I realized it as I never found myself changing the channel even when commercials came on as I was eager to hear what rock and roll classic they would play next. Even if there was a podcast I was desperate to listen to, the DJs always kept me listening as they were cool in ways others tried way too hard to be. During its final weeks, it dug even deeper into its catalog to give us music other stations have long since forgotten, and they handled their last moments with class even when they played William Shatner’s cover of “Rocket Man.” Even as the countdown clock kept winding down, The Sound went out at its best.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for me, knowing that The Sound was on its way out. As glad as I was to tune into the station every chance I got, I couldn’t help but sigh over the fact my favorite radio station was being killed off thanks to a corporate merger and sale. And now I have to wonder if there will ever be another station like it in the near future. I am left with a heavy heart as the music was great and the DJs were so infinitely cool, and it does feel like the radio I grew up on has finally taken in its last breath.

Well, thank you 100.3 The Sound for ten great years of wonderful music and for making me and many others feel like we were part of a truly loving family. You may be gone, but you will never be forgotten. Now excuse me while I deal in private with my latest case of separation anxiety…

In honor of The Sound, I want to include the late Tom Petty’s song “The Last DJ” as its lyrics encapsulate the kind of DJ this station employed ever so thoughtfully.

I also urge you to give a listen to Andy Chanley’s “The Sound Song,” a somber but thoughtful song about what we have lost and what we should be thankful for.

 

The Sound at the end

The Sound Family Forever