Continuing our look at the True Life stories genre, Greg Mottola’s semi-autobiographical film Adventureland was successful in what it did not try to do as much as it was in what the film accomplished.
Mottola, the director of 2007’s Superbad, never thought of penning the story of his embarrassing summer spent working as a carnie while living at home, saving up for Columbia when his father is unexpectedly demoted. Then, Mottola began trading stories with other writers about nightmare jobs and was encouraged to turn his anecdotes into a script.
Twenty years removed from the story, Mottola was tempted personally and by the studio to move away from the True Stories genre and give his story the Hollywood gloss that would, hopefully, make it a huge hit like Superbad. Ultimately, despite the “horrifying” self-revelations Mottola mentions experiencing both in writing the script and directing a younger version of himself on film, he chose to portray all of the messiness of his relationships, his stupid decisions, and grand failures as they really happened. Only, with more attractive actors.
The result was refreshingly authentic, if not tied up in a nice, neat bundle. The battle and new equilibrium are there. The hero and love opponent both complete arcs that the writer could have easily idealized, 20 years after the fact, having gone through several more relationships. But he refrained, and the story was both cathartic and believable — more a “memoir” than a “based upon.”
Having only seen the film’s trailer, I worried the story would be overly-preachy, and filled with the banalities of a college grad acting as a fish out of water amongst the under-educated. In fact, Mottola went the opposite route. The most intelligent character is poor and has no plans for his future, but the hero immediately recognizes the kinship they will have and befriends his coworker. He makes allies with nearly all of his coworkers, and gets along well with his bosses, too. The effect was a strong character web from which most of the comedy of the story could grow — a style used commonly by Judd Apatow, a frequent collaborator with Greg Mottola.
The True Life stories genre has the ability to surprise an audience by diverting from the expected — because that is the natural course life often takes!