Adventureland director Greg Mottola & Bill Hader

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

On his return to the world of teen comedies after the blockbuster success of Superbad, Adventureland director Greg Mottola mentioned one genre reference he hoped to avoid his second time out: "Anything with Freddie Prinze Jr."

As he explained in a conversation with reporters and Adventureland co-star Bill Hader following the film's premiere at SXSW Film Festival, he had an advantage in avoiding the synthetic trap of She's All That. The movie's '80s-era story is based partly on Mottola's own summer job experience. (See Alive's review on page 36.)

Jesse Eisenberg is James, a college student forced by a parental fiscal crisis to skip a summer trip to Europe and spend his days working at an amusement park for Hader and co-star Kristen Wiig.

One unexpected benefit of the job is meeting Kristen Stewart's Em, another games worker with great taste in music (the soundtrack includes tracks from Lou Reed, The Replacements, INXS and Husker Du) but some troubling personal issues.

"I did not meet Kristen Stewart the summer I worked at an amusement park, I must admit," Mottola said.

"The impetus was to write a movie about young love, but to try to do it in a way that it's messy and painful and it isn't a Hollywood cliche about soulmates," he continued. "After working with so many young people on Judd Apatow's show Undeclared, it occurred to me that so many depictions of young romance do it in a way that doesn't ring true."

The idea of setting his story during the summer he worked at an amusement park came later.

"I just liked that as a metaphorical setting," Mottola said. "They're places that can be one second grimy and disgusting and another second really kind of magic and wonderful. Maybe I'm a sucker for Tom Waits and Bruce Springsteen songs about seashore amusement parks and carnivals."

"I have a lot of fond memories of Tulsa where I grew up - the fair would come through and it was always a big deal," Hader added. "I won a girl a huge Dr. Feelgood pen. And I was telling Greg that a big moment in my life was realizing all the games were rigged. It was like the end of The Usual Suspects."

Hader plays park owner Bobby, who recalls Brian Doyle-Murray in Caddyshack with his thick 'stache and cleanliness fixation. By creative chance, he and Wiig, playing Bobby's wife Paulette, represent the film's best relationship model.

"It was really workshopping it with Bill and Kristen that turned [them] into that," Mottola explained. "The movie's full of examples of bad relationships and that's the only good one, and there is something very sweet about that."

"The nice thing about Greg is that the movie was based on his life but he was so open to us adding things," Hader said, adding that Mottola didn't forget about the new ideas once filming began.

"Greg, he fights to keep those moments. You get so caught up in the schematics of shooting, you forget what it's going to look like at the end of the day, but Greg doesn't allow that to happen."

To Mottola, it was crucial that each character have the same solid footing in recognizable reality as the central romance.

"That's something I really try to spend a lot of time on, because it's part of why I fell in love with movies in the first place," he said.

"When I started Superbad, the script was very sincere," he added. "Seth Rogen started it when he was a teenager, and I felt like I had to take the psychology of those characters as seriously as if I was doing Chekhov. Even though it is ridiculous and over-the-top sometimes, if we can ground some of the behavior and the acting and nail something, maybe we'll have something that's a little special."

For more with "Adventureland" writer-director Greg Mottola and co-star Bill Hader, click to the Bad and the Beautiful blog at


Opens Friday