This past weekend saw the release of “Adventureland,” a sweet and very funny coming-of-age tale set in 1987 that’s as notable for its ample cinematic merits as its pitch-perfect use of vintage college rock — both as soundtrack and as part of the plot.
The film, written and directed by Greg Mottola (“Superbad”), traces the plight of a new college grad (Jesse Eisenberg) who is forced by economic constraints to cancel a summer trek through Europe before heading off to Columbia for graduate school.
Instead, he returns home to rural Pennsylvania to work at Adventureland, a dumpy amusement park that’ll hire just about anyone. There he looks up to the resident rocker-slash-handyman (Ryan Reynolds, who dubiously boasts he once jammed with Lou Reed on “Shed a Light on Love”), and falls for “Twilight’s” Kristen Stewart.
The whole thing is set to an era-appropriate soundtrack of The Replacements (“Bastards of Young” and “Unsatisfied”), Hüsker Dü (“Don’t Want to Know If You are Lonely”), The Cure (“Just Like Heaven”), Crowded House (“Don’t Dream It’s Over”), David Bowie (“Modern Love”) and INXS (“Don’t Change”), plus a peppering of earlier cult acts like New York Dolls (“Looking for a Kiss”), Big Star (“I’m in Love with a Girl”), the aforementioned Reed (“Satellite of Love”) and The Velvet Underground (“Pale Blue Eyes”).
(Which isn’t to say the film’s devoid of ’80s cheese: There’s a recurring gag about Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” being played incessantly over the theme park’s loudspeakers.)
It’s perhaps the best use of vintage alternative music in a film since “Donnie Darko” — and the “Adventureland” soundtrack seems to be getting nearly as much media attention as the movie itself.
In a New York Times piece about the music of “Adventureland,” Mottola said he very deliberately used the soundtrack to set the tone for the film, which opens to the strains of “Bastards of Young.”
Mottola acknowledged that he is “telling a familiar story” of first love found and apparently lost, and that he is working with “characters who are archetypes.” That helps to explain why and how he uses so much music to define his characters.
“It’s shorthand in the script,” he said. “Kristen’s character is already interesting to Jesse, but he falls for her when she plays Hüsker Dü on the tape player in her car.”
The Associated Press published a story examining the legacy of ’80s music as seen (or, rather, heard) through the competing histories of “Adventureland” and the Broadway hair-metal musical “Rock of Ages.”
Mottola recalls discovering the less commercial music of the ’80s: “It was only later when I got older and met some cooler kids that they told me, `You know, there is thing called the Velvet Underground. You might want to check it out.'”
“Adventureland” is a reminder that ’80s culture wasn’t just one note.
“This sounds dorky, but The Replacements are a band that I think saved my life at certain points, when I was really depressed and lonely,” said Mottola.
Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a soundtrack album in the works, at least not yet — although Amazon does list a promo-only disc that features many of the band’s listed above, plus some of Yo La Tengo’s score.
PREVIOUSLY ON SLICING UP EYEBALLS: