“Poet” as a career path isn’t exactly the safest or sanest route for the creative youth of America to take, but Amy Anderson (Emma Roberts) doesn’t appear to have taken that sort of thing (i.e. actual reasonable thought) into consideration when it comes to her post-grad life. Back at home with her parents, the guileless Amy wiles away her time penning new poetry, applying for various “accolades” (really, this is how she talks) from different publications and using her parents’ dime to fund the entire endeavor. Sick of putting her up (and putting up with her), Amy’s parents demand she find a job, though they probably weren’t pulling for her eventual hiring at Adult World, the local adult video store.
The joke, of course, of Scott Coffey’s Adult World is that Amy is entering the “adult world” for the first time, a realm of maturity that she desperately needs to spend some time in, as she’s been coddled and spoiled to within an inch of her life. Let’s put it this way – when Amy’s parents accuse her of still being a child, she responds precisely as a child would: shooting back with a whiny “I am not a child!” before literally running away from home (she even sneaks out her own bedroom window). It’s a different sort of role for Roberts – Amy isn’t inherently likable, though she does seem to be generally well-meaning – but Roberts’ charm shines through and elevates Amy to someone we can actually get behind, even if she really is as psychotic as people think she is.
Both enlivened and bewildered by her new gig at Adult World (which seems surprisingly tame, as far as adult video stores go), Amy’s life is suddenly populated with all manner of “wacky” new pals, including cute manager Alex (Evan Peters), store owners Cloris Leachman and Jerry Adler, local drag queen Rubia (a wonderful Armando Riesco), her suddenly-militant college pal (Shannon Woodward), and the object of her intellectual affection (John Cusack) as her favorite living poet, Rat Billings.
Andy Cochran’s script is not content to stick to just one plot contrivance – Amy doesn’t just work in an adult video store and she doesn’t just stalk Rat until he hires her on as his sort-of assistant and she doesn’t even just move in with a squatting drag queen – but the real pleasure of Adult World is in seeing all those wacky and over-the-top bits that weigh down the first act of the film eventually coalesce into something quite funny and sweet. Adult World is about Amy’s fumbling maturation, and that includes plenty of awkward and aching moments that make both her and the audience cringe, but there’s a general friskiness to the film that makes it otherwise quite enjoyable.
The film is rounded out by solid performances by the entire cast, with Cusack in particular seemingly relishing his work as Rat Billings, wisely downplaying what could be an otherwise hammy role for him. Peters provides a charming romantic foil for Roberts, and the two have a sweet chemistry that only adds to the film’s likability without bogging it down with over-the-top romantic issues. Though the film itself could do with a small trim (it’s one of those that includes a half-dozen almost-endings before finally wrapping up), when Adult World clicks along best, it’s one hell of a sweet, offbeat comedy.
The Upside: Solid performances from the entire cast (including Roberts dipping her toe in weirder waters and Cusack being his wacky best), a breezy and enjoyable tone, often surprises with unexpected choices.
The Downside: Briefly stalls out in the first act due to contrivances that seem to have been put in place just for the sake of being offbeat, would benefit from a minor edit for time and clarity.
On the Side: Director Coffey makes a cameo appearance as a bookstore owner in the film. You’ll probably best remember Coffey for his work in Tank Girl (or, alternately, depending on how you feel about Tank Girl, you might recognize him from Lost Highway or Mulholland Drive).