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Adult World Review: Emma Roberts' Sexy Post-College Romp is Anything But

By Amanda Mae Meyncke | Film Reviews | February 18, 2014 | Comments ()


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I see Emma Roberts, Evan Peters too,
There’s even John Cusack, for me and you,
And I think to myself, what a dreary schlock fest.

Emma Roberts plays a young poet, Amy, who graduates from college and finds herself thrown into some kind of sad, middle class version of the real world. Her parents refuse to pay for her to submit her terrible poems to literary magazines anymore, and so naturally she gets a job at a sex shop called Adult World, where she and the young manager (Evan Peters) make eyes at one another all day and sell vintage porn to a collection of characters, and Amy befriends a transgender woman, Rubia (Armando Riesco) who, I guess, infuses her world with some much needed color and opens her eyes to How There Are Many Different Kinds Of People In The World. Amy is obsessed with a shitty, formerly famous poet (John Cusack) who graciously allows her to clean his house in exchange for taking a look at some of her poems now and then.

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The title is, I guess, supposed to make us think about how Amy herself is attempting to join the world of adults, finding the fine line between a terrible day job and mesmerizing dreams of poetry stardom. Amy, Amy, Amy, you beautiful flower, you precious Sylvia Plath loving dew drop, honey bunny, you unstable nut-job. Amy writes pretty terrible poems, I think, although we aren’t really privy much to the mechanics of her art except in how it seems to negatively affect other people. And Amy, darling little Amy, is kind of a self-centered nightmare, and I can’t actually recall her asking another character in the entire film a question about their thoughts, hopes, dreams, perceptions or motivations.

Emma Roberts is all over the place, hamming it up at one moment and trying to slip into a somber state the next. Question: When did everyone agree that Emma Roberts was a thing? When did she swoop from celebrity-adjacent obscurity, riding high on the glory of her famous aunt Julia, and demand to be taken seriously as a pretty twenty-something who wants to make money from pretending to be other, different, pretty teenagers and twenty-somethings? No one can possibly think that she’s any good, although she’s the best thing in Adult World by leaps and bounds, she’s still remarkably mannered and impossibly un-fun to watch. It is no fun to watch you do things, Emma Roberts! As perhaps her closest contemporaries, Felicity Jones can electrify the space between herself and another human being simply by leaning up against a doorframe and quietly saying a few spare words, and Emma Watson can break your heart into a thousand pieces simply by glancing down at her hands as her eyes well up with tears, but Emma Roberts seems to continually persist in a world where “being pretty” is close enough to acting. Flicking your hair behind your eye and rolling your eyes like a lunatic does not a character make.

Roberts isn’t entirely to blame, as actors are only as good as their directors. Director Scott Coffey should be maimed, for a number of reasons, but especially for wasting the delightful Cloris Leachman as the porn store owner, a role so minuscule that it could have been played by anybody, or in fact nobody, since she adds nothing and is given barely any lines, maybe her entire sub plot was cut. In fact any actor in this movie could have been replaced by any other actor in the world and it wouldn’t have made a lick of difference. People show up only to essentially disappear again, we could have done without: Amy’s dad, the porn shop owners, even Shannon Woodward as the quirky best friend is relegated to a few dismal scenes. I also want to say something about how nice it is to see Emma Roberts acting with her real life fiancĂ© Evan Peters, but the two don’t seem to have much more chemistry than bored high-school kids trapped in detention, so, I can’t. He is kind of the one person in the movie who tries to talk some sense into her now and then, so that makes him OK in my book.

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And the poor directorial decisions don’t end with stilted performances. Scenes often end without any real reason for ending, and many begin the same way. There are many scenes that don’t even really make sense, such as when Amy sees her poet idol, Rat Billings, exiting a liquor store and then she and Rubia hop on a stolen tandem bike and slooooowly, sloooowly cycle through the driving snow in the sloooowest, least interesting chase scene ever. As that poet-idol, John Cusack seems to be digging deep into whatever remained in the High Fidelity bag, the tortured artist who acts like a complete asshole for no discernible reason, just unpleasant and self-centered. The less said about the awkward attempted seduction scene between himself and Roberts, the better, as it’s a nightmare you can’t seem to wake up from. While his portrayal of a bored egomaniac may be very realistic, it isn’t necessarily good storytelling. And therein may lay the biggest problem with Adult World. The things that are entirely unrealistic, ahem tandem bike chase scene, drown out what may have initially been some very subtle musings about what it is to believe in culture and art, to boldly believe that it is possible to lead an artistic life and even to make money while doing so. Amy’s story feels familiar only in the roughest outlines, college education, piles of loans, having to get a job you don’t like in order to pay the bills — but the script is one step away from being made-for-TV worthy, a rare cocky blend of stilted dialogue and who-gives-a-crap plot, with throwaway one-dimensional characters.

I kept trying to decide if I found the transgender plot line troubling. Sometimes I did! Other times it was kind of charming and some much needed hilarity in this bizarrely stitched together film! The transgender character, Rubia (Armando Riesco), at times lacks the strength of, say, Laverne Cox on Orange is the New Black, and seems to be relegated to comic relief, or bawdy hilarity, which seems very uncomfortable the longer one thinks about it. Sure, it’s important for Amy’s horizons to widen, but transgender people don’t exist to teach straights about alternative lifestyles, and too often Rubia seems to exist to liven up a dreary scene.

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Adult World is just unforgivably bad. Too obsessed with being cleverly intellectual to actually draw anyone in, funny only in the dumber moments, and almost obsessively uncomfortable and uneasy. A horrible skit that just never ends, the more I think about this one the tired-er I get. So tired. The one bright ray of hope that it affords is that it’s wonderful to know that just about any ol’ script can get made in this day and age. The embarrassing thing is that many, many people slaved over this, doing their best, which still just isn’t any good. And oh, the audacity of this kind of filmmaking! Was this supposed to be the defining artistic coming of age film of our generation? Were we in desperate need of a movie about how awful it is to get a job when all you want to do is write poems all day? This story not only was told poorly, but never needed to be told at all, and that is nigh on unforgivable when the world still breathes excitement and everywhere you look there’s a thousand experiences lingering, stories untold, just below the surface of daily life.

Amanda Meyncke lives in Los Angeles, follow her on Twitter here. Or, find her email and send her a weird email, those are nice too.



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • hapl0

    It wasn't thaaaaat bad.

    And I'll watch John Cusack in anything. He's like Vince Vaughn to me. I just can't wait to hear what he has to say when he shows up.

    But ah, I think American Horror Story has forever ruined Evan Peters for me.

  • Tony Maxwell

    I saw this just last night (n a (not-quite-legal) website, and Amanda's review is as spot-on as they come. I thought it was a bit over-written, giving info that one could have done without; but the thing is, writing more than less about its horribleness will perhaps really drive it home to potential moviegoers. And, in my book, there's no such thing as too much Amanda writing.

    Emma is not the least bit 'cute' or 'adorably clumsy' in her comedic actions - she's merely bland and possesses no charisma at all. But I second the Leachman Love - it was pleasantly surprising to see her initial appearance, until you realize that her character has no 'character' at all, leaving a 'wtf'' reaction that was unnecessarily distracting.

    But with the dialogue and pedestrian direction, NO actress could have brought the Roberts role to life.

    Finally, there was a scene so stupidly contrived as to make me groan out loud, when Emma's character, seeing the 'Help Wanted' sign in the window of a business she's clueless about, approaches the door and yanks the goddamned sign out of the window right before going in! I seriously wondered if the writer or director had seen even one of the trajillion TV scenes employing that same, senseless act over the past 50-60 years!

    And every time I see one of those scenes, I ask to myself, "why do they put the freakin' sign OUTSIDE the window?" I mean, how many do they have to replace before the idea comes to them?? That's the level of stupid in this movie.

  • Amanda Meyncke

    WINTERS TALE IS COMING SOON GUYS.

  • Mrs. Julien

    My drive to work today looked remarkably like the tandem bike scene.

    And, of course, this was a clever and eloquent review as always.

  • Maddy

    I need a review of Winter's Tale - if I see one more trailer for that movie on TV I will never stop eye rolling.

  • oilybohunk7

    I thought that I hadn't seen the trailer for Winter's Tale so I Googled it and realize that I've seen it a hundred times too I just I am so uninterested in it that I didn't retain its name.

  • linnyloo

    Ooooh. Burn.

  • Maddy

    I'd like to say that Colin Farrell should be better than this, but he has really weird inconsistent taste when picking movie roles

  • Not the horrors of the middle class real world? How horrible. That poor girl.

    And mumsy and popsicle won't pay submission fees for publication anymore?

    Oh, wait. There goes all my sympathy out the window. If a market asks for a reading fee, they're not a market you should be submitting to. There are plenty of pro-rate paying markets for poets that don't charge reading fees. Contests charge fees, yes, but not general publication markets. That's a red flag most of the time.

    This little snit is bankrupting her parents $10 at a time for a career in poetry. No. Just, no.

  • Rule #1 of being an author or poet: money flows to the author, not away from the author.

    If you're spending money to get published, you're not getting published.

  • Mrs. Julien

    I love the exquisite Pajibaness of this comment. No matter what, there is someone around here who knows about whatever is being discussed in amazing detail. I mean that with no bitch or scathe. I love it.

  • Tracer Bullet

    I contend that the presence of a tandem bike is a highly significant sign that you're watching a shitty movie.

  • TherecanbeonlyoneAdmin

    Why must you make the Muppets cry, Tracer?

  • Tracer Bullet

    I'll allow it but only for the Muppets.

  • bastich

    Dammit, there are too many famous young Emmas (Emmases? Emmasies?) in Hollywood right now! I constantly get Roberts, Watson, and Stone confused.

    I fully expect some sort of Highlander situation to play out to determine who keeps the name. Send these ladies some swords, people! THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE!!!

  • BlackRabbit

    I believe the proper nomenclature is "Emmi", and a "cute of Emmi" is the group name.

  • Guest

    Additional: I have the same issue with all the Chrises(?):

    Pine, Pratt, Evans and Hemsworth.

    If THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE:

    Pratt followed by Pine.

  • Guest

    THERE IS ONLY ONE: STONE!

    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-KsEh...

    Stone > Watson. But both are >>>>>>>>>>>>> Roberts.

    *In the picture above she kind of looks like Michelle Monaghan.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? Now please also review Winters Tale so I can read you eloquently cutting that down as well.

    Side note: been reading up on Ireland in preparation of a trip there, with its lovely literary tradition. And a curious thing seems to be that many of Ireland's renowned writers continued to be teachers or run a pub or what have you, even in their success. And I think I'd ready like to see some representation of that in these parts - that being an artist doesn't make you other, and that working in a coffee (or porn) shop doesn't make you less of a creator.

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