Life following college can be hard, especially in this economy. Depending on the degree you pick, finding a job can be excruciatingly difficult. Moving back in with one’s parents is the only choice for many recent graduates. Adult World is a film that follows one such individual, and essentially becomes a coming-of-age film … for someone in her early twenties. Hey, not everyone comes of age when they’re a teenager like the movies often want you to believe.
Our lead is Amy (Emma Roberts), who went to school to learn poetry and spends her days writing and submitting works that are never published. At the beginning of the film, her parents give her a limited amount of time to keep footing her bill. She needs to find a job and another place to live. The only job she can get is working at an … “adult” store, coincidentally called “Adult World.” It’s here she meets the manager, Alex (Evan Peters), with whom she strikes up a friendship, and Rubia (Armando Riseco), a drag queen.
She also, eventually, meets her favorite poet in the whole world, Rat Billings (John Cusack), who, after much stalking and persuasion, lets her become his protégé. These are the pieces in play. Everyone else in the film is worldlier than Amy, so they’re going to teach her lessons over the film’s duration. She’ll grow as a person, learn a bunch of important things about the world and people around her, and … grow more as a person, I guess. What do you want from me? It’s a coming-of-age movie. There’s only so much that can happen!
Okay, there are also ideas at play. Nobody is above working a terrible job. Your heroes might not be the type of people you fantasize them to be. Never give up on your dreams. Sometimes you need to slightly alter your path in order to become a success. You know, the little things. I mean, at least there are themes that Adult World wants you and its lead to work through. Sometimes these types of films rely solely on the lead character’s growth, and that’s it. Those are usually pretty dull.
The film works best when it focuses on Amy and Rat. The times when we get to watch Amy’s reality slowly shatter as she spends more time with her favorite poet is kind of heartbreaking, even when he redeems himself ever so slightly. The lessons learned during this story are the truest and the least used in cinema. We’ve seen the protagonist begin a relationship with someone, and we’ve seen our lead become worldlier over the course of a film. These are staples. Seeing a juvenile idolization slowly ruined? That’s new.
There are a few moments of genuine comedy scattered throughout Adult World, but most of the film is a drama. It’s not that its tone is too dark or anything, but more than a few sites list it as a pure comedy, or comedy-drama — or “dramedy” — and I just don’t think they’re particularly accurate. Most of the comedy comes from Amy not quite understanding much about the real world — the adult world, if you will.
John Cusack and Emma Roberts are two of the reasons that this film works at all. I mean, it helps that the scenes they share together are the most truthful and poignant strictly from a screenwriting perspective, but they’re sold so well because of the way the actors are able to get at one another. Armando Riesco could have gotten an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Rubia had Adult World been released in November or December — and if people knew it existed. Evan Peters is the weak link when it comes to casting, but his character is so underwritten that it’s possible it’s not his fault.
Is Adult World good? Well, it does just enough to differentiate itself from other coming-of-age films to feel like its own property, so it has that going for it. It has ideas it wants to relay to its audience. The lead actors are up to snuff. Yes, it’s also formulaic and you’ll see where it’s going long before it does, but that comes with the territory with this kind of movie. Is it worth seeing? I think it just might be. If you’ve graduated from college with a degree unlikely to easily secure you a job right away, you’ll be able to relate.