"Adult World" is more aggravating than endearing, although there's an interesting idea buried beneath all the cutesy plot details. Emma Roberts strikes a delicate balance with her performance of Amy, a self-serious young poet fresh out of college; she's as pretentious as she is naïve, dumb enough to clean the house of a once-famous poet for free so she can claim to be his protégé but smart enough to score high on the SATs.
Amy is a virgin who works at a porn shop called Adult World. Yep, we get it. She doesn't think she belongs there; she thinks she's too good for it, destined for better things, and definitely above the creeps who come in to rent that icky degrading porn. Amy is supposed to be grating and obnoxious in that particularly tormented way of a young self-proclaimed poet, and you know this from the shot of the Sylvia Plath poster on her wall. No one but a 21- or 22-year-old would sigh, "You can't be a wunderkind past 22." There's something so overblown about Amy's character that it feels real, and Roberts' endearing, wholehearted embrace of her is refreshing. We've all known (or been) girls like Amy.
The rest of "Adult World," though, is probably not supposed to be that exasperating on purpose. It's possibly supposed to be a big old teachable experience for Amy, and maybe for the audience too. This can be boiled down to a few bullet points. Your heroes are fallible, no matter how punk rock they seem. You're not actually that special, because very few people are that special. Beyoncé is that special, but almost everyone else is screwed. You don't have to be miserable and alone to be an artist. You don't have to create art just for other people, just to get famous or get paid or get attention or love; you can do it just because it makes you happy. Also, be sure to go to big warehouse parties full of "artsy" "eccentric" people doing dance performances and stuff, because that's how you get real world experiences that you can write about!
One of the highlights of "Adult World" is John Cusack's eccentric character Rat Billings. He's a former punk turned surly upstate poet whose delusions about the purity and grandeur of art have been whittled away by the necessities of adult life. Like bills. (It's hard not to think of Lloyd Dobbler's dinner table speech in "Say Anything" about what he wants to do in life without contemplating whether or not he ever grew up and faced his own "Adult World" moment, much like Rat. This is probably a thought that Cusack would not appreciate.)
It's also cool to see Evan Peters in something other than "American Horror Story," and not doing horrible things or having horrible things done to him. His character is sweet and affable, and as Amy gets to know him and like him more, so do we. The sight of Cloris Leachman gesturing with a vibrator at Emma Roberts' face and assuring her it won't bite is also pretty great, and all too brief.
However, the character Rubia, a transgender woman played by Armando Riesco, is really forced into the story for no reason except, possibly, to offer some sort of lesson to Amy. There should absolutely be more characters in media that aren't heterosexual, middle class, white people whose gender identity matches the body they were born in. Creating a character like Rubia and dropping her into an already contrived situation is insulting to everyone involved, most especially transgender women. It would actually have been better to not include Rubia at all than include her the way she was written and performed. I'm sure this wasn't done with ill intentions, but that doesn't make it okay.
In the end, there is something rather enjoyable about Amy's histrionics and sweetness, Rat's weirdness and unexpected cruelty, and the not-so-subtle romance budding between Alex and Amy. I'm just not sure if it's worth a trip to "Adult World."
SCORE: 5.0 / 10