Adult World Not For Mature Audiences Only
Actress Emma Roberts proves herself as the accidental face of ennui in this post-college satire.
A poet who has not experienced tragedy is as convincing as a virgin working in a sex shop. There you have the set up for Adult World, a 2013 black comedy directed by Mulholland Drive’s, Scott Coffey.
The film begins with Amy, a twenty-two year old suffering her first bout of existential crises, literally pulling her head out of the oven, denouncing the act as “suicidal plagiarism.” The college graduate, played by Emma Roberts, is an aspiring poet who, like so many of us fresh from the womb of university, suffers from delusions of grandeur- believing that her high SAT scores and academic accolades will automatically beget her artistic fame. Having spent the better half of her first year out of college living off a familiar diet of parents and a prayer, Amy’s rejection slips and discouragement pile up, forcing her to take a position at Adult World, a porn shop run by a kinky geriatric couple, the wife a delightful cameo by Cloris Leachman.
Instead of stuck between the pages of the New Yorker, Amy finds herself stuck memorizing SARF (Sex, Age, Race, Fetish) the Dewey Decimal system of porn and sanitizing sticky VHS tapes. It is only after she takes up a masochistic mentorship with poet Ray Billings, John Cusack at his cynical best, does Amy come to terms with the fact that believing in the SATS is like “believing in Scientology” and that talent is reserved for the fortunate few.
It’s easy to recognize Amy’s character as borrowing heavily from Reality Bites’ (1994) Leilana Pierce, played by misfit queen Winona Ryder. Both are newly graduated female writers struggling with ridicule, rejection and romance. Amy’s lamentation that “you can’t be a wunderkind past twenty-two” is a direct echo of Pierce’s regretful admission that she “thought she’d be somebody by twenty-three”. But all likeness aside, Roberts is a hard sell as a tortured soul. Her former roles as sorority/coven leaders in Scream Queens and American Horror Story are better suited for the actress; she has trouble convincing the audience of emotional depth, proving that mousy brown hair does not an intellectual make.
However, considering the film’s overall obviousness: Billings eventually publishes Amy’s work in Shit Poetry an Urban Outfitters-esque publication of bad work and her aforementioned employment at Adult World, Roberts’ vapidity turns out to be the film’s coup de grâce. We see Roberts as a fraudulent Amy because Amy is herself fraudulent; her character fortifies the film’s satire. Despite her assertion that she “feels, a lot” it’s impossible to imagine her feeling much other than hunger for fame, or what Cusack’s Billing’s refers to as the “black plague of a generation”.
Adult World satirizes a generation whose attention seeking ways have strayed it from genuine endeavors. So-called Millennials are so caught up with Instagram likes and ReTweets that there is little of substance being produced. Like Amy, whose white middle-class background, 90k education and zero knowledge of publication transportation leads us to believe she’s had it fairly easy, Millennials desire to be suffering muses without doing any of the suffering. Adult World attempts to shed light on a generation of virgins in a porn shop
For those who relate o the disenchantment of post-college life and the fear of an increasingly shallow society, Adult World is worth the ninety minutes.