By Glenn Dunks
March 20, 2014
Finally, pornography peddling poets get a film all their own in Scott Coffey’s frisky comedy, Adult World. Amy (Emma Roberts) is a wannabe poet superstar, the kind who thinks she’s the next great artiste and who wouldn’t commit suicide by sticking her head in the oven because that would be plagiarism. After getting a job at a low-rent porn store when her parents stop paying her way through college, she then moves in with a hard-talking transgender hairdresser, befriends the cute, shaggy-haired co-worker Alex (Evan Peters) and embarks on a masochistic protégé relationship with a famed, down on his luck poet named Rat Billings (John Cusack).
It all sounds utterly silly, but most of the picture’s strength comes from winking at this adults-only style of poetic justice. This is obviously far from the romanticised portrayals of poetry of period flicks Bright Star and Sylvia, and it was always going to be a tricky field of navigate balancing cynicism and sincerity for an artform that lacks pop culture cache like this. Adult World succeeds thanks to Coffey’s down-to-Earth direction, Andy Cochrane’s screenplay (with its succession of gigglesome one-liners and biting commentary on contemporary art), plus the watchability of its actors. It is genuinely funny and surprisingly touching by the end, which is more than can be said for most of Hollywood’s efforts of late.
Roberts’ eager and unhinged electricity hasn’t been put to as good use since Scream 4, and Peters makes a cute romantic foil for her excessively bubbly personality. Cusack, too, is in increasingly rare form with a deliciously downbeat performance full of dry sarcasm as a man who uses gruff take-downs to mask his own insecurities. The role feels tailor-made for Cusack given his own career trajectory, which helps imbue the role with a larger sense of pathos.
It ends rather abruptly just as it’s kicking into a higher gear, though that isn’t enough to distract terribly from the light-hearted material and energetic performances. And if that weren’t enough, having Cloris Leachman on hand to tell a blue joke or two instantly makes any movie better. That’s just a fact.
Adult World will be available from Quickflix on March 19, 2014.