So much of 2013’s cinema was defined by a warped perspective of what constitutes the American Dream - a dream involving youth’s resolve for toxicity and consumption. Amy (Emma Roberts) isn’t immune to this delusion. One would figure that someone majoring in Poetry would be aware of the ensuing financial struggle that will follow. Yet it’s Amy’s naivety that allows her to assume a sense of privilege. Of course she will be published right out of college. Of course she will leverage the goodwill of her parents into success. Issues of entitlement among recent graduates have been a well-documented issue in previous years, best addressed in Lena Dunham’s Girls. Comparatively, Adult World attempts to probe similar concepts but unfortunately lacks the sophistication to present these ideas in a concise and fresh way.
With a poster of Sylvia Plath hanging in her room, Amy is first seen with her head in an oven. Aware of the suicidal plagiarism with the act, she opts to put a bag over her head. We backtrack a year before and Amy’s submitting her work to virtually every major publication she can muster. Well, it’s clear how that endeavor goes. Embittered, Amy’s job hunt brings her to an adult video store that proposes its own set of misadventures. It’s a sitcom premise and may have actually worked better if told in that format. The acknowledgement of where Amy will end up mutes the dramatic structure of Adult World, which is perhaps why director Scott Coffey allows his actors such free reign of the material. Roberts in particular goes all out, exploiting her character’s naivety for comic effect. Similarly, John Cusack, who’s become a reliable character actor over the past few years, relishes in the opportunity to overplay his curmudgeon poet character. Adult World’s best sequences involve the two in verbal diatribe, both incapable of accommodating either’s sense of self. It’s an odd couple scenario where a reluctant mentor accommodates a precocious pupil - an oft-charted predicament that’s enhanced by capable performers.
It’s clear from the outset that both Roberts and Cusack will not be able to sustain the narrative trajectory of the picture, in large part because it requires so much obedience to coming-of-age tropes. There’s an inherent lack of surprise to the scripting and with so little for Roberts and Cusack to work with outside each other, there’s simply no way to go but down. Tidy resolutions, intrusive plotting, and forced romance composes the final act to Adult World, coincidentally curbing any sense of maturation for childish delusion.