Adult World

Emma Roberts in Adult World (Poster)
Emma Roberts in Adult World (Poster)
What it's about:

An idealistic young poet is given a ultimatum by her parents to get a “real” job or move out. Doing both, she soon finds herself living among a group of bohemian misfits and working (badly) as a clerk at Adult World a mom and pop (literally) porn shop but it's when she meets and forces herself into the life of her hero – an unsuccessful, cynical middle-aged poet – that things really start to get interesting.

What we thought:

Along with certain similarities to indie-gem Igby Goes Down, in many respects, Adult World is the sprightly, more idealistic younger sister of the Coen brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis. It doesn't hold a candle to the Coens' stone-cold masterpiece, of course (what does?), but it certainly deserves more respect than it has gotten so far. Opening to weak reviews, worse box office and a tepid audience response, I doubt Adult World will find much of an audience in this country either, but – and I promise, I'm not just being a contrarian here – I really, really liked it.

Admittedly, as someone who is trying to make a career out of one of these “ridiculous” semi-creative jobs (hey, you try reviewing a thousand mediocre films a year without being at least a bit creative!) our heroine's story resonated particularly strongly with me in much the same way that Llewyn Davis' did, but I do genuinely think that Adult World is a smart, heartfelt and massively enjoyable little comedy-drama.    

Being a quirky indie-dramedy, it's obviously not perfect and it certainly never exhibits even a faction of the artistry of Inside Llewyn Davis (not to mention the killer soundtrack) but that doesn't stop it from being all kinds of awesome in its own right. It is baggy, tonally inconsistent and occasionally too precious for its own good but that's pretty much the modus operandi for the genre in general and, unlike most of the independent or independently-spirited moves that have come out in the last couples of months (I'm looking especially at you, Hateship Loveship) it more than overcomes such weaknesses.

Emma Roberts, for a start, really holds the thing together as she takes a character that could have been seriously annoying and turns her into someone that audiences can love, sympathise with and relate to. As Amy, Roberts wins us over with her mix of naïve optimism, wide-eyed ideals and general adorableness (and I mean that in the best way possible), before breaking our hearts as her dreams are crushed and her reality shattered. Her story is far from tragic but Roberts portrays the character's loss of innocence perfectly as she transitions from sheltered adolescence into the – if you excuse the film's very obviously intentional pun - adult world.

Without a great script and smart direction, of course, Roberts' excellent performance would have been wasted. Fortunately, with its controlled direction and smart, empathetic and very funny script that's certainly not the case here. I love a good coming of age story (especially if you mix it in with a bit of existentialism) and Adult World is simply a really, really good coming-of-age film with an existentialist slant.

The film's real secret weapon though, is Jon Cusack. As I was driving to attend the press screening of this film, I was silently lamenting the death of this truly great comedic actor's career. Don't misunderstand me, Cusack still routinely offers very strong dramatic performances in even his weakest films but I have come to dearly miss the John Cusack who offered up timeless comic performances in such classic comedies as the Sure Thing, Better Off Dead and, of course, High Fidelity. His character in Adult World though, feels like a true return to form. He's curmudgeonly here to be sure, but he's also hilariously funny and his character's relationship with Amy is really the heart of the film. Adult World is filled with uniformly excellent supporting performances but it's Cusack who all but entirely steals the show.

I realise that with Guardians of the Galaxy is still cooking up a storm in cinemas everywhere and this week's release of the massively charming family comedy-drama, Chef, Adult World might get lost in the mix, but if anything in this review sounds at all appealing to you, do yourself a favour and hunt down a showing of Adult World. It's easily one of the year's most overlooked gems.

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