Is Adventureland the new Garden State? An analysis of “emo” film.

Posted on 13 April 2009 by Quaid

I didn’t write a review of Adventureland for this site.  Hans gave the movie a fairly glowing review, so I didn’t see the need to echo his sentiments.

adventureland_poster1I’d venture to say, though, that I loved the movie more than both Hans and Shep, and the reason is simple.  I’m an overgrown, whiny, heart-on-my-sleeve emo kid at heart, and Adventureland is quintessentially what I have come to label as an “emo” film.

Now, we’re not talking music terms, necessarily.  It’s not about the angst (though many emo films do have that element), and it’s not necessarily about adolescence.  It’s about raw emotion.  Most emo films are more interested in character relationships and, most importantly, relationships with one’s own emotions, instead of plot.  Emo movies tend to focus on realistic-ish, mundane characters.  It’s about falling in love, about finding beauty in a small snapshot of the world that most people would just bypass completely.  It’s even about finding meaning in situations that cause one pain, or a sense of loss, or a deep longing.

Cameron Crowe has the market cornered on this makeshift genre with movies like Jerry Maguire, Say Anything, and every emo fan’s favorite film, Almost Famous.  But there are genre-bending emo movies like Donnie Darko (theatrical cut, not the overly sci-fi director’s cut), and the twisted but sweet Vanilla Sky (yep, there’s that big lug Cameron Crowe again).  Then there are Charlie Kaufman’s emo masterpieces, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. 

But perhaps the most defining moment in this genre came from a little movie–directed by the goofy guy on scrubs–entitled Garden State.

gardenstatedvdThis movie annoyed a lot of people.  I mean…a LOT.  The main theme of the movie involved overcoming emotional numbness in order to really feel the bittersweet ebb and flow of life.  It had very little plot–just a life-changing romance which opens the metaphorical eyes of both parties involved.  The movie felt like a string of well done short films, each one more emotional and Romantic and whiny than the previous, and this approach soaked into the entire film from the lighting and camera movement to the amazing soundtrack.

It was too much for most people (I understand why), but I ate it up.  A college student when it was released, I ended my screening with an annoyingly emo conversation with a girl who I, of course, haven’t seen in years.  We sat in meaningful silence, we tried to talk in mixed metaphors, and we felt both emotionally vexed and sated at the end of our talk.

That’s what emo film is all about.  And if I knew then what I know now, I would have probably have inserted something else into our “deep” conversation.  Something along the lines of “a point” or “substance.”

The movie doesn’t hold up for me.  It hurts me to say it.  As I’ve gotten older, even nostalgia can’t hide the film’s obvious flaws.  Watching it now, I just want to shake the characters and say, “Great, you’re feeling all this overwhelming raw emotion.  Do something with it!” 

The movie has less substance than I ever realized.  It’s the pitfall of a movie that wants to be about “feeling things” and not much else.

When I sat down to watch Adventureland, I was surprised to find myself feeling those old familiar emo feelings.  Only this time, there was something behind it–a message, vague but powerful, that it wanted you to not only feel, but also to understand. 

While Garden State was happy with presenting you with quirky characters and situations, Adventureland actually strives for a plot–and is stronger for it.  It has all the romance, self-exploration and “personal meaning” elements in it, but it also has a compelling storyline that sees our hero and heroin face tough challenges that don’t feel completely stock or “easy” like in some romantic comedies.  Ryan Reynolds’ older, married character serves as a villain in that he holds Em back from being with our hero, but he plays each scene with a sincerity and human weakness that, at the end of the day, keeps him from turning the corner toward full-out villain.  He’s misguided, and he’s making poor life decisions, but he never really means to hurt anyone.

adventureland2-440x294And we see why Em would fall for him.  I mean, he’s Ryan Reynolds…suave, older, and much more aggressive than James (who is inexperienced, dorky and a little creepy at times). 

It’s really a common dynamic (even in the real world), and it is definitely played out within the “emo” mold, complete with mixed tapes, starlit kisses and a trek to New York city to tell the truth in the rain–to the one you love as well as to yourself.  The movie is about finding what you want in life and going after it, just like Garden State, but it takes this theme one step farther.  The film becomes about taking honest-to-God risks, accepting failure as a natural part of growth, and being able to forgive those you love–before they even ask you to.

While Garden State stops at the emotion, Adventureland carries us through to the action.  It’s not enough to feel a connection with the world and those you love; you have to act on it even when your choices are difficult and not terribly romantic.

So I’d say that, should the movie survive its mediocre box-office run, this has a shot at being the new Garden State–the flagship emo movie for geeks like myself.  The emo genre has finally grown up.  Thank God.


5 Comments For This Post

  1. HansKlopek Says:

    Well said. You made me like the movie even more.

  2. Rakesh Says:

    Enjoyed the movie a lot, Im hoping others do so too.

  3. Elmo_not_Emo Says:

    Too EMO for me. The main actress was uber depressing. Not my style, but that’s cool if others digg it. There was some solid comedy relief though, like the park managers and James’ childhood friend.

    Overall a C+.

  4. Quaid Says:


    I can totally understand the “too emo” argument. But I’m an emo kid at heart, so I am able to look past a LOT of emo-ness. C+ though? Jeez, have a heart! :) (just kidding).

  5. links cheap Says:

    You really make it appear really easy along with your presentation but I find this matter to be really something which I believe I’d by no means understand. It sort of feels too complex and very large for me. I am taking a look forward for your subsequent put up, I will attempt to get the cling of it!

Leave a Reply


Recent Comments

  • Loading...