The protagonist of Adult World may be a familiar figure. She just graduated from college. She relies on her parents for money. She thinks she’s the greatest writer of her generation. No, this isn’t Hannah Horvath; this is Amy Anderson. But don’t worry, Adult World isn’t trying to be like Girls, it’s trying to be funny—and it’s highly successful at it, too.
Amy (Emma Roberts) is out of school and ready to become the poet laureate she believes herself to be. But her parents grow weary of footing the bill for all her poetry submissions to magazines and make her get a job. Surprisingly to her, a degree in poetry doesn’t get her much. So she ends up snagging a job at the adult video store Adult World.
While in school, Amy had haphazardly stumbled upon the poetry of Rat Billings (John Cusack) and it changed her life. When she discovers that he’s doing a signing at the local bookstore, Amy is so eager to talk to him that she’s oblivious to the carjacker driving away in her car. Unfamiliar with the bus system, she enlists the reluctant aid of Rubia (Armando Riesco)—a drag queen she met at work—to help her navigate home.
After her parents take a closer look at her expenses, Amy is all but kicked out of the house. She seeks shelter at Rubia’s since hers in the only address that Amy knows. From there she must forge her own path, and with a few nudges from Rubia she does. Amy stalks Billings until he agrees to mentor her—something he does half-heartedly at best. She gets an apartment with her slutty college friend Candace (Shannon Woodward). And she even attempts to go for the boy she’s crushing on: her manager Alex (Evan Peters).
Adult World is a crisp satire aimed at this unnamed generation of unmotivated post-collegiates. No longer teenagers but not yet adults (or at least not acting like adults), these self-entitled twentysomethings are waiting for fame to reach them. This idea has warped the American Dream in the minds of young people. The celebrities of today are proving that if you can be notorious enough or rich enough—or both—then you, too, can be famous. It’s gotten out of hand.
Director Scott Coffey was drawn to this theme when he read Andy Cochran’s script. And he does a great job of alluding to these ideas while still keeping it immensely funny. He also manages to avoid any overt allusions to those who have contributed to this new vision. Coffey purposefully avoided putting the characters in NYC or LA, wanting to explore these themes of fame and success in a smaller city. And all of it works well for the film, letting the story speak for itself (even if the message does come across a little heavy handedly from Billings).
Emma Roberts as Amy is everything you wish Lena Dunham could be as Hannah. Roberts is charming, sincere, and doe-eyed. When she says she’s an amazing poet, you almost believe her because she’s so confident in herself. Roberts also has a sharp comedic wit that will leave your abdominal muscles sore by the end of the film. If Roberts’ energy and charisma could be transferred onto Hannah then maybe she would be an at-least-somewhat-sympathetic heroine—but I doubt that’s what Dunham would ever want.
And as her foil, John Cusack is a perfect cast. Billings is a misanthropic older man. His fifteen minutes are over and it’s left him bitter and unfulfilled. When he sees Amy’s verve and thirst for adulation, he wants nothing to do with it. He is also very careful not to directly encourage her (although that doesn’t stop Amy from inferring what she wants to hear). But if Amy’s outlook is wrong, then so is Billings’ and together maybe they can work towards realistic dreams.
For all its criticism of fame, Adult World is a very lighthearted comedy. With a film populated by so many eccentric and endearing characters, the comedy flows easily. While I haven’t seen many of the comedies that the Tribeca Film Festival has to offer yet, I know that this is the one that will have you laughing aloud the most.