Wednesday night we went to a Tribeca Film Festival discussion with Superbad director Greg Mottola, who’s since written and directed a comedy about working at an amusement park; it will be out later this year. Adventureland, named after the Long Island park where Mr. Mottola worked as a teenager, features The Squid and the Whale’s Jesse Eisenberg as the director’s fictional young self along with a supporting cast of Saturday Night Live’s Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader. The discussion, sponsored by Apple and indieWIRE, is available on iTunes, but the director sat down with us to talk about what he called “the worst summer job ever.”
So how did the idea for Adventureland come about?
I was working on the TV show Undeclared and hanging out with all the writers from the show. We were trading stories of the worst jobs ever and I realized I’ve had a lot of bad jobs: I worked at a box factory, in an elevator parts factory; I was a night watchman at the beach. But the worst was when I worked at an amusement park called Adventureland on Long Island. Everyone told me I had won the competition. They were like, ‘Yeah, that’s the worst job, you win.’ And the next morning I started writing notes for what the movie could be.
Were you worried that Jesse Eisenberg played a similarly neurotic character in Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale?
In my movie, he is also kind of an overeducated, bookish guy who doesn’t quite live in the real world and it overlapped that character a bit. But that was literally my only hesitation with him because he was always in my head as I was writing it. Then I sat down with him and we talked about how to make the character a little different.
Is there a similarity between yourself at that age and Jesse?
There is an embarrassing earnestness, a horrible tendency to tell the truth all the time that I’ve hopefully since weaned out of me. But maybe I’m doing it right now, not sure.
Worst day on the job and did that make it into the film?
The place where I worked turned into what we would call on Long Island, ‘a real guido hangout’ at night time. It’s the suburbs, it’s the ’80s, there is nowhere to go, it’s the kind of place where people would pull a knife on you if they wanted to win a giant panda. So that made it into the movie. The guy who pulls a knife on Jesse, that actually happened to me as well as moments with drunks and rich kids who humiliate you—the people who go on to humiliate busboys and waiters in life.
What do you think they’re doing now?
Running film studios. Kidding! I don’t know, but they’re probably not the audience for this film. I think people who grew up with trust funds are not going to like this movie. You have to have worked as a waiter or service person who’s been treated like shit to appreciate it.