Adult WorldScott Coffey / 2014 / onestar Tribeca

Active Ingredients:  Supporting cast; Affable tone
Side Effects: Generic story; Disjointed pacing


[Adult World is playing at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 26th and April 28th.]

Earnest and well-meaning, Adult World adopts a familiar and pleasantly casual mood to chart the quarter life crisis of budding poet Amy (Emma Roberts). With mounting student loan debts and a growing stack of rejection letters from literary magazines, Amy’s post-college life is off to a rocky start. She knows she’s brilliant, and doesn’t mind telling anyone who will listen, but to finance her entry into “the adult world” she reluctantly takes a job at a sex shop called, that’s right, Adult World. It’s an apt and tidy metaphor, one which even the tenacious young poet can appreciate, but the film’s handling of Amy’s maturation leans on the same artificial posturing as her verse.

While its use of the formulas and iconography of indie comedy is transparent, Adult World has the amiability and low-key humor to win over some fans. It features a committed (though inconsistantly pitched) lead performance from Emma Roberts as well as a solid supporting ensemble, including American Horror Story‘s Evan Peters as a conveniently available potential love interest and Armando Riesco as a crossdressing diva named Rubia. Peters and Riesco imbue their characters with some much needed sincerity, but John Cusack‘s performance as Amy’s favorite poet Rat Billings is aloof and thin.

Adult World has the requisite oddball characters and charm of a 20-something indie comedy, but it fails to justify its interest in Amy. We know she cares about poetry because she tells us, but we never believe it, and the film itself has no interest in poetry either stylistically or narratively, beyond a unique hobby for its protagonist. This is partly due to Amy’s own ignorance of the world—she needs to live before she can write, Rat explains—but it leaves the film feeling empty and artificial. Adult World does seem to love its characters, but we merely tolerate them.