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Indie Snapshot: Adult World

by Ethan Alter February 14, 2014 5:55 am
Indie Snapshot: <i>Adult World</i>

Remember the John Cusack who made you think kickboxing and putting "In Your Eyes" on boombox blast was the height of cool? The John Cusack who warmed your heart by helping out young runaway Natty Gann? Or, hell, even the John Cusack who took you on a weird, wild trip through John Malkovich's brain? Well, that John Cusack is mostly gone, but for the first time in a very long time, remnants of him can be seen in Adult World, the sophomore feature from actor Scott Coffey, whose career dates back to the '80s when Cusack was a king of Young Hollywood. Though they never appeared in a film together in that era, Coffey clearly remembers the dashing figure that Cusack once cut and he draws on some of that nostalgia for the role the actor is playing here: a once-hot, now-not poet named Rat Billings, who has spent the past decade or so neglecting his talent by teaching classes and editing anthologies he doesn't really care about and in general holding the world at arm's length via a curt, caustic attitude. In fact, if he hadn't already called the movie Adult World, The John Cusack Story would be an appropriate title.

Except, of course, that Cusack isn't technically the star of Coffey's film. That would be Emma Roberts, who effectively distances herself from her own starlet past as Amy, a straight-A student and aspiring poet who emerges from college confident that she'll dazzle the world with her verse, only to discover that the world doesn't care about her one damn bit. In short succession, she finds herself living in her parents' house in upstate New York with no income, no job prospects and, thanks to a lightning-fast thief, no car. It's in this state that she turns up on the doorstep of Adult World, a mom-and-pop owned porn emporium that needs a cashier to work alongside its lone stock boy, Alex (Evan Peters). Though it's not exactly part of her career plan, Amy takes the gig and winds up becoming good friends with Alex, as well as his transvestite pal Rubia (Armando Riesco). All the while, though, she dreams of taking the literary world by storm like her favorite poet Rat, who conveniently enough, happens to live within bus distance of the store. Tracking him down, Amy all but forces him to take her own as an assistant and general go-fer with the understanding that he'll pay her in wisdom and advice rather than cash. Of course, much of that "wisdom and advice" takes the form of put-downs and pranks, as Rat determines that the lesson plan his disciple would benefit from most is a crash course in rejection.

Adult World ultimately can't avoid the flourishes that hobble too many coming-of-age dramas, from the cringe-inducing use of a minority character (in this case, Rubia) to educate the white lead in the art of loosening up, to a tidy ending that neatly sidesteps any lingering consequences of the characters' decisions. Still, the core of the film -- the relationship between Amy and Rat -- clicks in a very real, very entertaining way. After sleepwalking through a series of terminally dull direct-to-DVD thrillers as the terminally dull hero, Cusack is clearly enjoying the opportunity to be a jerk and get paid for it, while Roberts smartly captures the way her character's wide-eyed naïveté becomes a kind of mania as she encounters setback after setback. Ultimately, Adult World is the story of a young idealist who realizes that failure is sometimes the best route to success. It's a harsh introduction to the adult world, but in this case, a necessary one.

Get showtimes and tickets for this movie from Fandango.

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