WITH THE RECENT SURGE OF WINTER STORMS, IT'S ALWAYS GOOD TO KEEP PLENTY OF FLESHLIGHTS ON HAND...
Down on her luck, recent college graduate Amy would give anything to enter the lucrative business of writing poetry. With multiple rejection letters from literary magazines, stockpiling student loan debt, and parents who are forced to cut her off, Amy does what any girl would do – takes a job as a clerk in an adult bookstore. In her spare time, she decides to obsessively stalk and harass a once-famous poet, who just so happens to be her hero and even more so happens to live down the street.
Indie comedy-dramas are often plagued by one problem – being quirky for quirky’s sake. In the case of Adult World, the quirk is piled on in spades. Take, as evidence, a wise transgender woman who carries a car battery with her everywhere she goes (when it’s convenient), an elderly couple who run a porn shop (who doesn’t laugh when they hear old people talk about plugs and beads?), a poet named Rat, a Bohemian best friend whose idea of individuality is a nose ring, montages set to indie rock (why wasn’t it raining?), and tandem bicycle car chases (for that matter, why did that character even have a tandem bike?).
All of these could be fine as surface elements, but it needs a good solid foundation to support them. Unfortunately, you won’t find that here. Nothing would have changed if it had been set in a grocery store, or a tanning salon, or a coffee shop (a few times, the angst level here dials up just enough to almost make you forget that it DOESN’T take place in a coffee shop). But, here, the choice of adult bookstore feels shoehorned in for the purpose of comedy and weirdness, probably best represented by scenes involving the inevitable knocking over of a rack of dildos, or a late-film heartfelt apology repeatedly interrupted by a customer requesting increasingly outrageous adult novelty items. Plus, you know, old people talking about porn...
Emma Roberts plays our protagonist, Amy, with a lot of gusto, but ultimately, the character is just not particularly likeable. In a film like this, it’s important for us to be behind the person that we’re here to watch grow and learn from experiences, but, as written, she’s incredibly difficult to root for. Melodramatic, selfdelusional, a tad pretentious, and borderline psychotic, Amy will test your capacity for compassion in a lead character. Roberts is as good as can be expected when playing someone who’s already burnt out on the world at only 22 years old, surrounded by people who do nothing but enable her.
This leads to an even bigger underlying problem – the beats and progression in this movie are 100% predictable (that’s fine), but none of them make much sense in the (adult) world created here. Amy makes a speech through a window that’s filled with wisdom and life lessons that feels completely unearned by her character. We have no idea where or how the spoiled brat that we’ve been watching for the last 75 minutes gained that type of perspective. It’s even more evident in a finale that seems to just happen because it happens. It’s telling that it’s preceded by the line of dialogue “you’re never gonna believe this.” They’re right – we don’t.
Fortunately, the performances here are mostly enjoyable enough to still make us sorta/kinda/not really want to watch. Despite what I’ve said, Roberts actually gives a great performance – she’s just outdone by the performance that she is asked to give. Evan Peters is charming and funny as the requisite potential love interest who also works at Adult World. He’s written exactly as you’d expect him to be (you’ll actually be a little surprised at how late the film introduces his hidden talent as a painter), but Peters has a lot of fun in the role and he and Roberts have a chemistry that makes their courtship believable.
John Cusack plays a gruff poet, idolized by Amy, with just the right amount of sardonic wit in a role consisting largely of near-philosophical one-liners. Cloris Leachman is always fun, popping up very briefly as the vulgar elderly woman who I have to believe was offered to Betty White first. The biggest fine here, however, is Armando Riesco as Rubia, the aforementioned transgender. He steals the show by wisely underplaying a role that could have been used largely for laughs. Instead, he makes the film’s most unbelievable character the easiest one to believe. Through no fault of his own, however, his friendship with Amy is perhaps the biggest offender in a film laced with character traits and inter-personal relationships that are filled with inconsistencies.
As you can tell, the biggest issue here is with the script. However, a few pieces of clever dialogue and interesting near-detours lead me to believe that it’s not entirely the fault of the first-time screenwriter. You can hardly blame him for sticking to a formula for his first outing, but perhaps he would have more success next time attempting something with an original viewpoint. If you’re going to go formulaic, you must be able to understand why that formula works, not just that it works. As it stands, Adult World is never really boring, but it’s never particularly entertaining or insightful either.