“Adult World:” A Subtle, But Thoughtful, Allusion to Adulthood

Review, “Adult World”
Overall Rating: *** stars (out of ****)
Released February 14, 2014
Directed by Scott Coffey
Writeny by Andrew Cochran
Cinematography by James Laxton
Starring Emma Roberts, John Cusack, Cloris Leachman, Evan Peters
Running Time: 93 minutes
Worldwide Box Office To Date: $25,368

In Scott Coffey’s “Adult World” — new to Netflix streaming this year — the naive young Amy (Emma Roberts), a struggling recently-graduated poet, is removed from her suburban safety net and emerges as a minimum wage worker at a local adult movie store.

The title alludes to both the adult content implicit in her employer’s business and the new world she has entered in the most haphazard way possible — aspiring poet in the depressed, post-recession Niagara Falls, NY. She is as far from Chuck Bukowski as you could imagine, despite her own delusions otherwise.

For the first thirty minutes I was fooled into thinking that Amy was our tragically devalued underdog, destined for cinematic and poetic greatness. Had this been the point and arc of her character, this would have been a truly terrible movie. Over time, it becomes clear that Amy’s ridiculous naïveté is going to be treated realistically. And the movie does a great job of revealing her inexperience by showing, rarely by telling. Amy is as inexperienced vocationally and culturally as she is romantically.

I, for one, am wary of the perma-child characterization of the Snake People generation. Though it suits her character, Amy’s immaturity is stereotypically recognizable to every middle-income empty-nester who has ever rolled their eyes amongst peer parents while discussing the futures of their adult children. It pays the bills, but I can only assume that actors with strong German accents loathe being cast as SS officers. My hope is that one day the self-reliant, clever, business-savvy twenty-somethings returns to cinema like a blast from the Michael J. Fox past of young adulthood.

Despite my gripes with Roberts’ portrayal of my generation, she ably performs up to the standard she has been given. I find her parents’ exasperation with to be believable and real, given that they are not people of immense means. Her manager at work, Alex (Evan Peters), bears many standard characteristics of the hunky, young retail worker. His street smarts make him more appealing than your average rom-com meat. As Roberts’s poet mentor, Rat Billings, John Cusack channels the tortured, over-analytic content junkie of “High Fidelity.” It may be typecasting, but I can never dislike the man for playing that role.

On top of everything, you get all the standard indie trappings: empty, snowy streets, crappy cars, cheap apartment interiors, limited non-circumstantial production design, and a lighter soundtrack. It’s harder to be critical when you see yourself in the production crew: people of limited notoriety, making a go at a feature.

Despite some of my reservations, “Adult World” serves as a worthwhile addition to any Netflix queue. A coming-of-age story that lacks the plastic nonsense of big budget rom-coms and the high-mindedness of mumblecore. I may be a pushover because I tend to give extra points for devastated, post-industrial locations and John Cusack. You could do much worse things on a Thursday night.

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