Directed by Greg Mottola | Starring Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart
Recent college graduates who still do not feel ready to tackle the world will find an unlikely hero in James Brennan, played by Jesse Eisenberg. After some financial issues, James scraps his plans of a summer vacation in Europe and journalism graduate school and takes a summer job at the titular decrepit amusement park. There, he develops an instantaneous rapport with the intelligent and cool Em, a deadpan Kristen Stewart, and a motley crew of employees including those played by Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig and Ryan Reynolds. Nostalgic, insightful and quietly funny, “Adventureland” is sure to resonate with 20-somethings and anyone who has a life plan derailed by circumstance.
“Wet Hot American Summer” (2001)
Directed by David Wain | Starring Janeane Garofalo and David Hyde Pierce
A critical and commercial failure, on paper, “Wet Hot American Summer” is not the kind of movie expected to get a coveted Netflix spinoff series. However, the film remains a standard of popular culture; its satirical take on romantic comedies of the ’80s garnered an extensive cult following, with a prequel series, a sequel series and a documentary. As counselors at the fictional Camp Firewood summer camp, the cast of mostly unknown young actors, including Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper (COL ’97) and Elizabeth Banks, handles its campy plot with spirited silliness and aplomb, making for a fun summer classic.
“500 Days of Summer” (2009)
Directed by Marc Webb | Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel
With its nonlinear structure and subversion of romantic comedy tropes, “500 Days of Summer” was a breakout indie hit from the 25th Sundance Film Festival. Though Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s endearing performance as the lovelorn Tom and Zooey Deschanel’s charming turn as the idealized Summer might lead audiences to believe the movie’s focus is romance, director Marc Webb has described it as a coming-of-age tale. Warning against the perils of placing the people we love on pedestals, Webb’s feature debut tackles its plot with flair, emotion and originality, and the movie, like the fleeting season of summer, is over far too soon.
“American Graffiti” (1973)
Directed by George Lucas | Starring Richard Dreyfuss and Ron Howard
Though many may identify George Lucas as the father of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises, fewer think of him for his earlier landmark work: the iconic 1973 coming-of-age film “American Graffiti.” Based on Lucas’ teenaged years in 1960s Modesto, the film’s vignettes of a group of teenagers and their escapades pay homage to the rock ‘n’ roll culture among the baby boomers. Inspired by producer Francis Ford Coppola, Lucas crafted the premise to appeal to mainstream audiences, scooping up five Academy Award nominations in the process. A hallmark of American film, the retro setting of “American Graffiti” reignited a public interest in the culture of the ’50s and ’60s, but its empathetic, eager recall of teenaged attitudes is timeless.
“Do the Right Thing” (1989)
Directed by Spike Lee | Starring Danny Aiello and Ossie Davis
Often listed among the greatest films of all time, “Do the Right Thing” is a simmering appraisal of racial tensions and the approaches people take to deal with them. Set on the hottest day of the summer in a Brooklyn neighborhood, the film engendered considerable debate on the portrayal of racism, police brutality and black people. Many feared its depiction of violence would incite black audiences to riot, to the scorn of director Spike Lee, who in turn criticized white reviewers for implying black viewers lacked self-restraint. The film’s nuanced comparison of non-violence and violent self-defense, and ultimate differentiation between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. was urgent at the film’s release and still feels timely today.