Adult World (2013)
★★ / ★★★★
Amy (Emma Roberts) is informed by her parents that they can no longer support her poetry career. She has over $90,000 in student loans and all she has ever done since graduating from college is enter literary contests—which require money to enter. Clearly, Amy needs to get a job but the interviews do not go well since she lacks practical experience. Eventually, the aspiring poet lands a position at a sex shop. Although she has never imagined ever working in one, she figures she must hang in there until her big break arrives.
Written by Andy Cochran and directed by Scott Coffey, “Adult World” is the kind of movie that, I guess, should speak to those who have some level of animosity toward the millennial generation because the protagonist reeks of self-entitlement despite lacking a key ingredient: experiences that, in theory, would allow her to write about something real or substantial. Although the material offers a handful of amusing scenes dispersed throughout, it is not an effective commentary of a self-aggrandizing character because it lacks a critical third act. We remain to wait for the punch in the gut but next thing we know the movie is over.
Roberts makes Amy almost unbearable—which is a compliment to the performer. It is the kind of role that Reese Witherspoon would probably have spearheaded back in the ‘90s and excelled at. Although Amy lacks Tracy Flick’s determination, the two share an annoying, over-the-top willingness to impress whoever is foolish enough to pay attention. Amy hopes to be taken under the tutelage of Rat Billings (John Cusack), her favorite author whose career has peaked in the late ‘80s.
Even though the picture deserves some credit when it comes to not going for the obvious parallels between the aspiring and washed-up poet, their interactions ought to have been more meaningful—at least to us. Perhaps the problem is the technique behind the acting. Cusack tones it down, his character always brooding, often wrapped in his toughness. Meanwhile, Roberts turns up the energy to ten, her character seemingly on amphetamines because everything is so dramatic. Hyperbole may be a part of Amy personality but there is a way to play exaggeration with subtlety.
Two interesting performers who get a healthy amount of screen time are Evan Peters, who plays the manager of the sex shop, and Armando Riesco, playing a transgender woman. However, their characters are underwritten. The screenplay does a good job showing that Alex and Rubia, respectively, are people of substance—the kind of people that Amy needs to be around so she can be inspired—but it fails to present specifics. Instead, we get to see how Alex and Rubia live and that is somehow supposed to communicate how hard they have it in life.
The story takes place during a bleak winter and the color palate consists of white, black, and grey outside. Of course it is supposed to symbolize the protagonist’s made-up state of calamity. At one point she wonders what she has done to deserve becoming an unpublished poet. She got good grades, was placed on the ninety-seventh percentile on the SATs, received awards, and stayed true to her art in college. We are amused somewhat because we know exactly why. And yet some of us may feel repelled. After all, such a sentiment has been tackled in other, better movies before. The picture offers nothing special to separate it from similar works that critique millennials.