Sunday, March 23, 2014

Adult World

ADULT WORLD        C+                 
USA  (97 mi)  2013  d:  Scott Coffey

Another film about the Me Generation, the children of privilege, an entire generation that feels something is owed to them simply because they think they deserve it, not because they’ve done anything to earn it.  Here we see a whiny Emma Roberts as Amy, a fiercely driven young girl (there isn’t an ounce of grown up woman about her) just out of college who is so positive she has the makings of a poet that she invests everything she has, much to her parent’s dismay, in sending off packages of poems to publishers, and then feels disappointed when her parents can’t afford to subsidize her poetry career anymore.  In her eyes, it’s an investment in her future, while her parents think she ought to go out and get a real job.  A girl that sleeps with a poster of Sylvia Plath over her bed, in the opening scene, she replicates Plath’s suicide, plotting out exactly how she would asphyxiate herself from her gas oven, actually going through the motions, yet the tone of the film is an absurd comedy, so right off the bat we realize this is going for demented territory.  The film backtracks one year earlier when she’s in bed with a sleazeball about to have sex with a guy who’s obviously only interested in himself, yet tells her all the things he thinks a girl wants to hear, only to discover a film crew hiding in the closet shooting the whole thing, eventually running out of there in a state of undress and abject humiliation.  A closer inspection reveals Amy is a broken record, a walking advertisement for herself, continually spewing the same mantra of how it’s only a matter of time before she gets published, how she’s so close and on the verge, reminding everyone how her career is about to take off, yet at present, she has nothing to show for it.  Driven to desperation, she relies upon fate, and a Help Wanted sign in a window, where she walks in brimming with confidence and is all smiles until she realizes it’s an adult porn store, running out in a state of panic and hysteria, as if she’d been attacked by a swarm of killer bees.  Apparently, after the unpleasant incident, she still has a near psychotic aversion to sex.       

With her tail between her legs, she sheepishly returns back to the store, discovering it’s run by an old couple still madly in love (Cloris Leachman and John Cullum), where they’re not the least bit ashamed to use the names of sex toys and adult store vernacular in completed sentences, something she finds terrifying and revolting at the same time, so she’s a perfect fit for the store.  The store manager, Evan Peters as Alex (the real life fiancé of Emma Roberts), couldn’t be more friendly and helpful at every turn, yet he’s zeroville in her eyes, as she’s only slumming before the day of the big publishing event.  Roberts appears schooled in the Rosanna Arquette style of comedy, appearing to be one and the same at times, except she’s younger, more girlish, more of an airhead, despite her repeated claims that she was a straight A student, and much more aggravating.  While she’s cute and has a flair for humor, her wretched need to put herself first all the time in a continuous “look at me” syndrome reveals the surface level of superficiality where she operates, never having a reflective moment, which makes the premise of being a writer so absurdly ridiculous.  Yet she perseveres, butting to the front of the line of a book signing of her chosen poet du jour, Rat Billings (John Cusack), something of a washed up has been, a former punk poet who is in town to teach a course at the local university.  While he quickly escapes her outright stalking maneuvers, she finds out where he lives and plants herself on his doorstep, demanding that he read some of her poetry and offer criticism poet to poet.  Her credentials are that she “really feels a lot” and “wants to speak for all the people that suffer.”  Ingratiating herself to him, she’s willing to provide unpaid maid service while calling herself a protégé to her poet mentor.  While nobody really buys any of this, yet she continues to delude herself in a mad rush of youthful exhilaration that she identifies as budding genius. 

Cusack channels Bill Murray in his downbeat sarcasm, underplaying every scene, hoping for a moment of sanity in the enveloping madness, with Alex continually gushing that his work “speaks to an entire generation,” to which he can only answer “No, no it doesn’t.  That doesn’t mean anything.”  While initially he playfully and somewhat scornfully calls her “Suburbia,” by the end he’s describing her as “this generation’s Black Plague,” where he’s forced to  remind her “not everyone is talented.”  In a movie like this, the focus would have to be on a character named Rat, where Cusack does all he can with the role, much of which seems to resemble himself, as if he’s used to fending off the adulation of complete strangers who are positively bonkers in their outright expressed enthusiasm.  The film throws in handfuls of secondary characters, mostly for comic relief, but all of them are mere stops on the road of her meandering journey to success and fame.  While much of this resembles the more impressive work of Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World (2001) or David Chase’s Not Fade Away (2012), this film doesn’t belong in the same category, as it’s more of a cheap, comedic imitator, a pretender to something it’s not, which is social relevancy.  Other than the obvious, where the film attempts to comment upon the privileged and the entitled, the film shows little insight, where writers like Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress (2011) or Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha (2012) have their pulse on middle class disillusionment, using more realistic characters to reflect the unique problems dealing with the emptiness and boredom.  This film has a few laughs and a few comic barbs, but Emma Roberts is such a loathsome, self-centered character that it’s easier to laugh at her rather than identify with her and the culture she represents, suggesting that tonally the director has mostly missed the mark, unless he simply wanted to make a goofy movie that will ultimately be forgettable.      

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