The Third Rail: Wasted Youth — Adventureland and Alcohol

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Not all of us came of age in ’80s Pittsburgh (sorry, Michael Chabon), but Adventureland nails all the universal truths of the modern American coming-of-age experience: minimum-wage jobs, unsympathetic parents, fumbling sexual encounters, desperate searches for marijuana, and careening, vomit-inducing experimentation with alcohol.

It’s only natural that a movie set at an amusement park would feature plenty of little kids tossing their lunch and expecting the park employers to clean it up (“You’re just smearing that around.” — truer words were never spoken). Yet director/writer Greg Mottola does a nice job of paralleling the rollercoaster’s stomach-churning ups and downs with the nauseous lengths that the college-age characters will go to in order to enjoy themselves. “I drank a whole bottle of vodka,” says one would-be party animal. “That was vermouth,” corrects the movie’s hero, James. “I think vermouth is a kind of vodka,” his friend says, before double-checking by throwing it back up on James’ car. BLERGH.

(These days even some devoted martini drinkers will opt out of any vermouth in their glass, but an aversion to vermouth hasn’t always been the norm. David Wondrich writes about a Vermouth Cocktail that dates from 1884 in his book, Imbibe! It calls for 1 ½ oz French Vermouth, 3 dashes Angostura bitters, and ½ teaspoon of gum syrup. I’m sure it’s very nice, but you go first. I’d rather risk riding the teacups.)

It’s not just Adventureland’s twenty-somethings who go through alcohol-related upheavals. When James’ sad-sack father has to inform his son that he can’t pay for grad school, Dad softens the blow (for himself, at least) with a few Old Fashioneds. Don’t let this boring suburban father spoil a perfectly good drink, though. Try one with ½ tsp of superfine sugar, several dashes of Peach Bitters, two oz of bourbon, on the rocks. It’s a slight twist on the traditional drink, but a good start to explaining to your son that J-school is a bad idea. Also a bad idea: hiding cut-rate liquor under the driver’s seat before lending the car to your heartbroken, resentful son.

Every coming-of-age story needs a significant rift between father and son. It’s just a part of growing up and moving out of your bedroom, and otherwise where would we get father-son-reunion movies? It’s a rite of passage, just like hiding “Cuban” rum into a fast-food soda cup, listening to terrible local bands, playing with fireworks while chugging beer, and… um, hooking up with an anemic girl who likes Van Wilder and vampires? BLERGH.