Matt Pais, @mattpais
RedEye movie critic
12:00 AM CST, March 6, 2014
**1/2 (out of four)
Finally! Unlike this week's "The Bag Man" and recent, ridiculous parts like Richard Nixon in "Lee Daniels' The Butler," John Cusack finally takes a role that suits him with "Adult World." He's Rat Billings, a once-revered, now nearly forgotten poet; a quietly wounded intellectual, moderately irritated but mildly, secretly welcoming change to his routine. That loud baby bird squawking around her cage is Amy (Emma Roberts), who majored in poetry at Syracuse and wants Rat, her all-time favorite writer, as a mentor. She loves how he's "dark and brooding" -- as if all other poets are light and fluffy.
To the credit of first-time feature writer Andy Cochran and director Scott Coffey ("Ellie Parker"), the film doesn't shy away from Amy being insufferable. She actually says "carpe diem" and defends her poetic ambitions by saying, "I really feel a lot." A whiny searcher and general hot mess, this girl's so 22 I'm shocked she isn't introduced to the tune of Taylor Swift's "22."
Having blown her parents' limited funds on writing-contest entries, Amy begins working in an adult video and sex toy shop, oh-so-ironic for a virgin who initially ran out of the store after one of the owners (Cloris Leachman) jabbed a vibrator in her face. Amy's slow-developing relationship with the store manager ("American Horror Story" co-star Evan Peters) tests both patience and credibility, and suggests the filmmakers initially wanted "Adventureland" co-stars Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart for the roles.
Does literary success come from life experience or talent and imagination? "Adult World," featuring songs from Dan Boeckner (Divine Fits, Wolf Parade), can't decide. But it's a fittingly rough zoom on the transitional period between dreams and reality, seen through a girl who says she "can't be a wunderkind past 22" and mostly means it. "Fame's your generation's black plague," Rat tells Amy, noting not everyone can be Beyonce. It's a hard but familiar lesson, making the film most recommended for those who saw the Coen brothers' great "Inside Llewyn Davis" and wondered if Llewyn had a pesky niece.
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