A movie that starts off with “amusing” suicide and stars John Cusack? Could this echo the seminal “Better Off Dead?”

That good will gets siphoned off almost immediately, demonstrating that even the bizarre fantasy world created by director Savage Steve Holland way back in the 80s was far more realistic than anything that takes place in Adult World. A coming-of-age comedy that is set in New York City, but does not carry a note of authenticity about it.

Meant to be a star vehicle for star, Emma Roberts, it feels like it was written by an audience member from her Nickelodeon days who’s never once set foot out of the cozy confines of a Malibu suburb.

Roberts stars as Amy, an angsty college grad who aspires to be a poet, but winds up working in a porn store owned by a sweet elderly married couple who greet all clientele on a first-name basis. Yup, it’s that kind of movie.

Adult World
Directed by
Scott Coffey
Emma Roberts, Evan Peters, John Cusack
Release Date
14 February 2014
Rob’s Grade: D

Amy sees a flier at a local bookstore for her favorite poet, washed-up writer Rat Billings (played by John Cusack) and does what any rational person would do, stalks him to his home, forces herself in and asks to be his maid. He, being equally rational, agrees.

Also orbiting in this surreal stale slice of life is: fellow adult-store employee Alex (played by Evan Peters, channelling his inner Jesse Eisenberg), another struggling artist who is wise and talented beyond his years and will of course be the perfect match for our troubled heroine; the requisite soothsaying magical transvestite (the kind who only appear in films such as this), who takes Amy under her wing (played by Armando Riesco in a role filled with limp wrists and lisps); and the reclusive, bitter, burned-out poet who hasn’t had a hit in years and just needs someone in his life to believe in him (hmmmm, who could that be?).

There’s not a turn the film takes that isn’t telegraphed from the opening credits and there is not a single frame of authenticity throughout its runtime.

Roberts is meant to inhabit the same mold as Parker Posey, Zooey Deschanel, Thora Birch, and Christina Ricci have well before her in similar festival-favorite exercises in idiosyncracy through the last few decades. The trouble is, Roberts has none of the off-kilter sensibilities and their characters weren’t entitled brats like Roberts’ character Amy is here. Forget that her character’s had a grounded upbringing (loving parents, nice home, college graduate — all traits that are death to a wackiness), Roberts is a weak candidate for a lead role. When Billings has a come-to-Jesus moment with Amy, telling the misguided, delusional gal her her poetry sucks and exclaims “Someone has to tell you the truth,” it’s as though he has more than enough ammunition to deliver that line to Roberts.

Adult World was written by Andy Cochran, who also bestowed upon us Super Sweet 16: The Movie and this feels like an East Coast version created for (and by) the same vapid, privileged crowd to which the latter was meant to appeal. Despite its title and aspiration, this is nothing but a childish “World.”

Review by Rob Rector, Film Critic