"FML" is Murphy's Law meets the Internet generation. The abbreviation, short for "fuck my life," sparked the blog and the phrase that turned crippling self-pity and embarrassment into communal self-deprecating humor and healing. It's at the core of Southwest Airlines' hilarious "Wanna Get Away" ad campaign and certainly what Alexander would have given as the summation of his no good, very bad day.
And because the Internet made phrases like these culturally relevant, it can be said that no movie has embodies FML nearly as well as "Adventureland."
The actual phrase is never directly uttered in the film. But it might as well be when its main character, James, is punched in the crotch by a co-worker and falls to the ground on his first day at Adventureland, the amusement park where he works. A cute female co-worker looks down at James and asks, "What was that?" and the only response he can muster is "My life."
Adventureland as a place is just that, a group of people who feel like life has punched them in the balls and placed them in a summer of hell. Normally, summer comedies showcase zany European vacations, wild pool parties or sexy beach adventures.
But summer inside Adventureland has no beaches. The families' savings have dried up, ruining any chance at that European vacation, and the only carefree pool party is ruined by everybody seeing your something poking through your tighty-whities (FML).
The mundane existence of the park quickly devolves into the mundane existence of its employees. Their days are spent biding their time, minute-by-minute, running fixed games and rickety rides while they interact with patrons willing to knife someone over a "giant-ass panda." But at night we find out why they're at Adventureland, and the misery of the park contributes to character development.
Much like James, no one wants to be at Adventureland. But obviously everyone is there for a reason: funding their real passion, funding their escape. Everyone, that is, except possibly the most intriguing character, Em (Kristin Stewart), who is simply using the park itself as her escape.
Em plays the role of the approachable girl of every indie boy's dreams. She blasts Big Star from her stereo and wears a wrinkled Husker DŸ t-shirt. At the park, she's a kind-hearted girl who helps out the new guy and stands up for the misfit. But after hours she's a scared kid who misses her dead mother and seeks solace in late night rendezvous with an older married wannabe musician (Ryan Reynolds) who fixes the park rides and games.
The plot moves from light to heavy when Em offers James a ride home from Adventureland. At this point, it's mere moments until the na•ve, puppy dog-eyed James starts rapidly falling for the jaded Em. The shaky course of this young love carves the path that the rest of the film follows, and its honest portrayal and sincerity make the film more touching than it has any right to be.
Possibly the most impressive element of this film is the depth given to these roles and scenes. It almost makes us forget we've seen most all of them before.
James, played by Jesse Eisenberg, is basically an extension of the character he plays in "The Squid and the Whale," an at times painfully intellectual kid whose perceived sexual inadequacies and inexperience occasionally guide him more than his emotions. Em resembles to the distant schoolgirl that Stewart played in "Twilight." Joel (Martin Starr) gives us a chance to see what Bill from "Freaks and Geeks" would have developed into after high school. Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig's characters feel ripped from the pages of an SNL skit. And Connell, Reyonold's character, has the exact same hankering for underage girls and "coolest guy at an uncool place" validation as his character in "Waiting."
But there is a depth to each of these roles that makes them feel rich and unique, and the cast as a whole builds off of one another with almost no weak links.
This same surprising depth is found in the film as a whole. All we can gather about Mottola from the trailer is that he is the man behind "Superbad." And although that film certainly had a higher level of warmth than most movies with a 400:1 dick-joke-to-tear ratio, it wasn't exactly "Gone With the Wind." So with this track record, Bill Hader's giant mustache, Ryan Reynolds and ample opportunity for corn-dog jokes, the film seemed destined to be a funny but forgettable two hours. But the end result feels much more like a by-product of Mottola's work on the short-lived series "Undeclared." Like an Apatow-influenced remix with a little less emphasis on the dick jokes and a little more on the Dickens.
And the resonating strength of the film comes back to that phrase. FML didn't become a somewhat ubiquitous catchphrase for people who actually hate their lives. It developed much for people like James. People who can get punched in the balls, either literally by their douchebag co-worker or metaphorically by their summer job at any number of Adventurelands across the world and still stand up and say, "Fuck my life." Because it means that you can laugh at yourself. It means that you know someone else out there is thinking the same thing. And it means if you're saying it to someone else, at least they're listening, and they're probably laughing, too.