In an adult world, Judge Michael Nazarewycz is still looking for a seat at the grown-up table.
When life gets hard, rise to the occasion.
Cloris Leachman plays a woman who owns a sex shop. Either the jokes will write themselves or the seen will not be able to be unseen.
Facts of the Case
Amy (Emma Roberts, We're the Millers) is a college grad with a degree in poetry who is struggling to find publishing success. Her parents, tired of funding her life—but particularly her submission fees and mounting postage expenses—cut her off, forcing her to get a job. She does, at the Adult World sex shop. It's there she meets and befriends the store's manager, Alex (Evan Peters, Kick-Ass).
While that relationship blossoms, Amy's life forever changes when she meets her favorite poet, Rat Billings (John Cusack, High Fidelity). She muscles her way into his life and insists he make her his protégé. She settles for being his housekeeper. She is happy just to be in his presence. Always keeping her eye on the publication goal, Amy struggles to make it on her own.
The good news is Cloris Leachman (The Croods) does nothing in her sex shop that you would want to unsee. The bad news is no jokes write themselves either.
Adult World is set up as a type of coming-of-age story. From her home in middle-class suburbia to the halls of academia, Amy has led a sheltered life. Even her degree in poetry—noble, yet impractical—suggests the only child has only ever done what she has wanted to do; she has served at her own pleasure. Suddenly she finds herself thrust into the real world (the "adult world"…get it?) where she must try and fail and grow and learn.
The problem is she isn't thrust into the real world so much as she is cut-off from her sheltered one. That's not coming-of-age, that's come-to-Jesus, and Amy handles it poorly. In fact, she handles it aggressively poorly, not fumbling her way through bad decisions and learning from her mistakes, but doing whatever she wants, consequences be damned. Her resumé might say Struggling Artist, but her behavior screams Petulant Child, whining about struggles and shirking responsibility reflexively. She is much happier being the victim, and the fact that the film opens with her feeble tries at suicide, played more for (attempted) laughs than pity, perfectly highlights that. Amy wants the viewer's sympathy but she doesn't want to earn it. As a result, she is an unsympathetic character.
Rat Billings is a slightly different story. He does not want your sympathy in the first place, and he certainly doesn't get it. But rather than grumble through the film as the bitter middle-ager who peaked young, Cusack's strong performance elevates him to a man who has survived his bitter stage and simply wants to move on. It isn't an annoyance by the constant reminder of his past (think child star of the '70s), but fatigue of it. Still, he'd take that success again in a minute. It's quite a nuanced performance, tainted by the fact the character is still an absolute louse, teaching Amy a vicious lesson as he paves his own way to hell with the backhanded good intention.
Peters checks in as both the cute romantic interest and the voice of maturity. He breezes in and out of the film, full of charm and likable in every scene, yet completely devoid of anything compelling. His chemistry with Roberts is real, and it should be; they are engaged in real life. Everyone else in the film hits their marks and says their lines.
While it isn't always necessary for a film to have a character to root for, it is necessary for this type of film to have one…and Adult World doesn't.
The 1.78:1 Anamorphic image quality of the Adult World DVD is without defect. Edges are clean and consistent throughout and there is no noticeable image loss across settings and light levels. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Dolby Digital 5.1 English audio track. While the music soundtrack is full and strong, the dialogue spoken by characters, even in the quietest of scenes, sounds faint. It's as if the characters are not onscreen but in another room onscreen.
In addition to the film's two-minute trailer, there are 25 minutes of deleted and extended scenes (about 18 in all). Nothing presented here would have helped or harmed the finished product in any way.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Oddly enough, Leachman looks rather at home in a porn shop, as does veteran television character actor John Cullum (Northern Exposure). Their parts are few brief, but always sincere.
Given the gaudy neon poster graphics and the double-entendre'd tag line, Adult World could have played well as a Cinemax-style episode of Cheers, with Roberts in the Shelley Long (Diane) role as the prim and educated misfit trying to hold her own in the boys' club. Instead, it only uses those XXX trappings as a come-on to get you to watch someone living like a child in an adult world, and only (sort of) coming of age by the end of the film because the closing credits are looming.
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