The Good: Decent performances, One or two lines
The Bad: Generally unlikable/unrealistic characters, Dull plot, Production issues, Moments of overbearing soundtrack
The Basics: At long last, Adult World hits theaters . . . only to be disappointing.
Two years ago, I lived in Upstate New York in a little village near Syracuse. I worked in the city of Syracuse and recall geeking out when I watched God Bless America (reviewed here!) with my wife and we found ourselves easily identifying many of the buildings in the background of the film. We were also very aware when Scott Coffey and his film crew was in Syracuse filming Adult World. As luck would have it, one day we were driving home from the mall and we actually saw the film being shot (I caught a glimpse of Emma Roberts and geeked out for a solid couple of days). So, despite moving to Michigan, Adult World was one of the movies I have actually been anticipating watching for (literally) years. Today, my anticipation ended when I had the chance to watch the movie.
And now I’m done with that. Adult World, despite having an amusing premise and several cast members whose work I actually enjoy – I was psyched to see John Cullum in something new and with the release of House Of Cards Season Two (reviewed here!) yesterday, I’ve been seeing a lot of Reed Birney the last couple of days -, Adult World turned out to be a plodding, listless film that left me sorry I bothered with it. Despite Adult World not being the directoral debut of Scott Coffey, the film reminded me of Clerks (reviewed here!) . . . without the charm or originality. Outside a well-delivered line about having a life or death creative emergency, which perfectly defines the melodramatic protagonist of Adult World, the film is short on charm and is almost entirely without a purpose, originality, or enjoyable moments.
Amy is a recent college graduate in Syracuse, New York who has $90,000 in student loan debts and a degree in Poetry. After a guy she likes from one of her poetry classes tries to have sex with her on camera as a fraternity prank, she returns home, humiliated. When her parents cut her off, she has to stop sending out her poetry submissions and get a real job. Having led a very sheltered life, she is dismayed when the only job she can get is at the local sex toy/movie/magazine shop, Adult World. There, her naïveté shows when she is horrified by the toys, baffled by what it means when a customer’s account notes they return videos sticky and is shocked by a transvestite man using a urinal while she is cleaning the shop’s toilets. At Adult World, she meets Alex, the laid-back manager who seems charmed by her lack of experience. Amy is thrilled when her favorite poet, Rat Billings, is doing a book signing at a local book store and she stalks the poet relentlessly, even getting her car stolen in the process.
When her parents get (reasonably) upset that she cancelled her car’s theft insurance in order to use the money for mailing out poetry submissions, Amy leaves home. Knowing only one bus line, she ends up at the apartment of the transvestite, Rubia. Seeing Rat Billings at a nearby store, Rubia and Amy hunt the poet down and Amy badgers her way into his life. Despite being utterly disinterested in her life or her poetry, Rat agrees to let Amy hang out (and even volunteers to include one of her poems in his forthcoming anthology of shit poetry). As Amy slowly loses her illusions about living successfully as a poet and about how great Rat Billings is, she rejects her position in the porn shop, then comes to appreciate it (and Alex).
Amy is a terrible protagonist and that is the fundamental problem with Adult World. As cliché as the virgin twentysomething might be, there is a terrible lack of realism in the way Amy throws herself at the frat boy at the beginning of the film, given how she hasn’t just given it up for anyone else. While her terrible, drunken, seduction attempt on Rat Billings is one of the high points of Adult World, by the time it comes up, it is virtually impossible for the viewer to care about Amy, her life, or the direction of the film.
Amy is thoroughly immature, in a way that is unpleasant to watch. She runs around with no regard for other people (she cuts past the line of about ten people to get to Rat Billings so she can have her “moment,” which is just rude and annoying to watch) and she is unpleasantly melodramatic. Her idealism loses its charm early in Adult World as she has no sympathy for how her parents do try their best to spoil her, but she keeps demanding more with no regard to their situation.
But the real problem for Adult World is how slow the character is to change. After a lifetime of being sheltered and living optimistically, she runs out into a dark, dirty, freezing world, where her hero turns out to be an asshole and it doesn’t really phase her. Instead, she blunders on oblivious in so many ways. It makes Adult World into a farce, but it isn’t funny enough to truly be farcical or even ironic; it just makes Amy seem unlikable and unrealistic. Emma Roberts gives a performance that plays up the melodrama, but Amy is one of her least memorable or likable characters.
At the other end of the spectrum are John Cusack and Armando Riesco (Evan Peters’s Alex is the obvious good-looking boyfriend material who lacks the screen presence or character of Riesco’s Rubia, who serves as more of a mentor to Amy in real terms than Cusack’s Billings). John Cusack gives a familiar-feeling performance as the grumpy Rat Billings. Billings is good casting for Cusack and the disillusioned poet is well within his established range. In fact, Cusack almost makes it seem reasonable that a one-hit wonder of a modern poet would not endorse suicide. Armando Riesco is a pleasant surprise as Rubia, though he plays it remarkably safe for a transvestite (despite a leg-shaving scene, Rubia never is a presented as a plausible woman).
Ultimately, Adult World is not funny, not populated by great characters and is not an amazing showcase of anyone’s talent. It is an easy film to pass on, even during the February Slump.
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© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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