Fail Again, Fail Better 

Adult World: a smart but loose coming of age.

Emma Roberts stars in Adult World.

Emma Roberts stars in Adult World.

Adult World begins with a suicide attempt: A young girl puts her head in an oven while a poster of Sylvia Plath stares into the distance, unmoved. But it takes too long for the oven to heat up or whatever, so the girl tries something even more dramatic: She ties a plastic bag around her head and lies down on her mattress to suffocate. The rest of the movie attempts to explain why anyone should care. It succeeds, sort of.

The bag(headed) lady in the opening scene is Amy (Emma Roberts), a cute, aspiring writer with a voice as soothing as a beagle's howl. Amy is intent on a becoming a poet — or, more accurately, she's intent on becoming a famous literary wunderkind like Rimbaud or Kitty Pryde. After graduating from college, Amy spends her days at her parents' house, mailing her poems to magazines and ignoring her mounting student loans until her mom and dad demand that she get a job. Amy finds work at a quaint, old-fashioned, family-run dirty bookstore, where she meets a sly, cute boy (Evan Peters) who takes a shine to her. But she doesn't really notice him at first, because she's trying to ingratiate herself with aging poet and local crank Rat Billings (John Cusack).

It's an unusual coming-of-age setup, part Adventureland and part Inside Llewyn Davis. But it's both easier and harder to take than either of those films. Like Llewyn Davis himself, Amy is shrill, pushy, haughty, and self-centered. Unlike Davis, though, she's terrible at her craft; for someone who wants to earn her living with words, she's almost ostentatiously illiterate. When she's asked why she wants to be a poet, she says things like "I feel a lot ... I wanna speak for the people who suffer." Roberts should not be blamed for her character's unpleasantness, though; she should be celebrated for embodying it so completely. Unless you're a professor or a parent, you probably haven't spent this much time with such complete, exasperating post-adolescent brattiness in quite a while.

Roberts' Amy is the kind of person whose sense of self-worth is unearned and overblown. As Billings, Cusack makes an ideal balloon-popper, a gravelly voiced troll who listens to people only to mock them and scurries around town like a roach seeking the cover of darkness. Intelligent antisocial behavior like Cusack's seldom goes unpunished for as long as it does here: His clashes with Roberts are the main reasons to keep watching.

Despite these two performances, Adult World is not entirely put together. However, in it are more smarts and recognizable moments from a real person's lived experiences than there are in most late-winter studio films. Syracuse's alleys and clinging-to-life neighborhoods provide mood and texture, and a throwaway Mark Leyner joke that falls flat is still a Mark Leyner joke.

Adult World must be doing something right, too, because no matter how annoying Amy is, it's still sad when she gets her well-deserved comeuppance.

Adult World
Opens Friday, March 7th
Ridgeway Cinema Grill

Keep the Flyer Free!

Always independent, always free (never a paywall),
the Memphis Flyer is your source for the best in local news and information.

Now we want to expand and enhance our work.
That's why we're asking you to join us as a Frequent Flyer member.

You'll get membership perks (find out more about those here) and help us continue to deliver the independent journalism you've come to expect.


Favorite
Adult World
Rated R · 97 min. · 2014
Director: Scott Coffey
Writer: Andy Cochran
Cast: John Cusack, Emma Roberts, Armando Riesco, Shannon Woodward, Chris Riggi, Darin Scott, Scott Coffey, Jo Mei and Leah Lauren

Trailer


Now Playing

Adult World is not showing in any theaters in the area.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
    • Wildlife

      Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal are a couple in crisis in Paul Dano’s directorial debut.
    • First Man

      Ryan Gosling plays Neil Armstrong in this flawed biopic
    • The Old Man And The Gun

      Robert Redford retires at the top of his game

Blogs

We Saw You

Indie Film Fest, Grilled Cheese Fest, Adapt-A-Door and more!

Hungry Memphis

Little Italy Opening Downtown

News Blog

Seven Vie for Vacant District 1 Council Seat

News Blog

Group of White Women Test Mall’s No Hoodie Policy

Hungry Memphis

The Nine Now Open

Fly On The Wall Blog

What’s Kids in the Hall Co-Founder Kevin McDonald Doing in Memphis?

Hungry Memphis

Gordon Ramsay's in Memphis to Save a Restaurant!

News Blog

TVA CEO Set to Retire in April

News Blog

Leaders Work to Revamp Public Art Guidelines

Tiger Blue

Three Thoughts on Tiger Football

ADVERTISEMENT

More by Addison Engelking

Readers also liked…

  • Death Grip

    Memphis filmmaker Sam Bahre talks about his 11-year struggle to create I Filmed Your Death.
    • Apr 19, 2018
  • The Lost City of Z

    A mesmerizing story of obsession in the Amazon jungle
    • May 1, 2017
  • Annihilation

    Director Alex Garland sends Natalie Portman deep into the unknown
    • Mar 2, 2018
ADVERTISEMENT
© 1996-2018

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation