Directed by: Scott Coffey.
Written by: Andy Cochran.
Starring: Emma Roberts (Amy), Evan Peters (Alex ), John Cusack (Rat Billings), Armando Riesco (Rubia), Shannon Woodward (Candace), Reed Birney (Todd), Catherine Lloyd Burns (Sheryl), John Cullum (Stan), Cloris Leachman (Mary Anne).
Adult World feels like they took promising screenplay and filmed the first draft, instead of allowing the writer another draft or two to refine the material – eliminate extraneous plot elements and characters, focus on what works, and make a very good, if not overly original, film. As it stands, there are some interesting ideas that run throughout Adult World, but they never really get truly developed. Rework the screenplay a little, and you have an interesting coming of age drama – about an overly idealistic young woman who is destined for greatness – at least in her own mind. But it’s also a story of a middle aged man for whom all that idealism is dead. Had the movie simply focused a little more on these characters, and the themes they dreg up, it could have been a good movie. Instead, the film adds layer upon layer of uninteresting story, useless supporting characters, and a lackadaisical pace that never really feels urgent. There are some decent performances, but that’s really just about it.
The film stars the talented Emma Roberts as Amy – a recent university grad, who has gotten straight A’s since birth, so she feels it will not take her long for her poetry career to get going. That’s right – she went to school for poetry, so she isn’t much prepared for life outside of university. Her parents tell her that if she wants to continue to live at home, she needs to get a job. She storms out – which leaves her still needing a job as now she has to pay some rent. She sees a help wanted sign in the window of a store called Adult World – and she goes in. They sell, well, what you would expect a store called Adult World to sell. Despite having no experience, in more ways than one, they hire her anyway.
Amy meets two men, who could become love interests. There is Alex (Evan Peters), who is the manager of the Adult World, and an artist in his own right – although not one with the self-confidence (or self-delusion) that Amy does. The second is Rat Billings (John Cusack) – Amy’s poet idol, who she wants to be her mentor. When he was her age, he was doing the best work of his career. Amy figures the same should be true for her.
If Adult World gets one thing just right, it’s that for many young people just out of college, they think they are destined for greatness – to the point of delusion. We never get to read any of Amy’s poetry, so I have no idea if she’s talented or not, but she is convinced that she is a poetic great, and that she’ll be discovered, and go off and have the type of glamourous life she always dreamed of. Everything around her – her parents, her town, the porn shop she works in, is just temporary for her. She knows she’s a genius – she’s just waiting for everyone else to realize it. There is a fine line between idealism, and arrogance, and Amy has crossed that line. For much of the film, she is an unsympathetic character – one that we know has a comeuppance in her future. We still like her to a certain extent though – in part because John Cusack’s Rat Billings is even more unsympathetic. If he once had the idealism that Amy had, it has long since been washed away. He’s a drunk, his most recent poetry is being dismissed and he is a complete prick to Amy – and everyone else – even if she never realizes. He then does something so cruel it’s practically unbelievable – and then, strangely, the movie tries to make him somewhat more complicated – perhaps even nice, as if he truly does understand Amy. It rang false for me.
Still, Amy and Rat are the film’s most interesting characters. The film introduces many others, and then doesn’t have much of anything for them to do. From Amy’s parents, to her roommate, to Alex – the seemingly nice guy, who is just kind of dull, to the customers of Adult World that the film basically mocks. Worse of all is probably Rubia – a transgender character played, fairly well by Armando Riesco, who the film introduces, makes us care for, and then basically abandons. Too bad – she`s the film’s most interesting character, and they`re pretty much done with her 30 minutes in.
There are many seeds of interesting ideas in Adult World – but none of them are fully formed. The actors – particularly Roberts, Cusack and Riesco could have delivered fuller, richer characterizations had they been given a chance to. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t give them the chance. I wanted to like Adult World – and think had the screenplay gone through another draft or two and refined itself a little bit, it could have got there.