"Masters try to make you imitate, and not think for yourself. 'Mould your Latin verses on Vergil, your Greek prose on Thucydides, your English on Matthew Arnold, but don't think for yourself. Don't be original'. If anyone big began to think he'd see what a farce it all is; it's all sham." — Alec Waugh, The Loom of Youth (2007)
Greg Mottola is becoming a worthy successor of John Hughes' mastery in storytelling mired in misunderstood teenagers and flawed adult characters who are thrown into aberrant, out-of-hand situations that force them to confront their destinies, threatened to be diminished by hostile wankers and random saboteurs. Mottola's work is gradually holding sway over this often puerile coming of age genre, thanks to his more mature approach to serious matters, such as sexual rites of passage, angst, and teenage depression.
Machiavelli, in his History of Florence, gave us an account of fear of an uprising youth that dated back to Ancient Venice and Greece. Post-World War II France reinforced their public youth controlling policies: "Send them to summer camps, place others in reformatories..."
"Ever since the Pilgrims departed for Plymouth in 1620, fearful that 'their posterity would be in danger to degenerate and be corrupted' in the Old World", [...] declining academic achievement in the late 1970's and 1980's, which reflected pervasive fears about family breakdown, crime, drugs, and America's declining competitiveness in the world". — Steven Mintz, Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood (2004)
James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg, The Squid and the Whale, The Education of Charlie Banks, Zombieland) is floundering with 'mal de jeunesse' during the summer of '87 at his suburban Pittsburgh home, flaunting a degree in Renaissance Studies and a comparative literature major from Oberlin. Recently graduated from college, he's accepted by Columbia University, but after telling his parents (Jack Gilpin and Wendie Malick) he needs more cash for his European tour, he learns his father has been transferred to another job and they can't afford to lend him any money.
Looking to accommodate these bleak new perspectives, James is hired by a married couple Bobby and Paulette (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig), who manage the local run-down amusement park Adventureland.