Any worries we had that John Cusack was going to have trouble finding roles
as he circled the day he gets that AARP card in the mail are mollified by “Adult
World.” Indie cinema will always have a place for an aging hipster, and his
standoffish poet Rat Billings is proof.
The film is an Emma Roberts vehicle, a coming-of-age comedy about an aspiring
poet, fresh out of college, whose parents “can’t afford to subsidize” this
indulgence, forcing her to enter the “Adult World.” Amy (Roberts) takes that
literally. Her first job is in the Adult World dirty books and porno appliances
store in the grimy corner of “the city” (Syracuse, N.Y.).
Amy is convinced of her greatness, keeps posters of Sylvia Plath within easy
reach and, when we meet her, is sticking her head in the oven, just like her
But that’s just the frame of the film, which flashes back to a year earlier,
when the gullible and delusional Amy struggles with the mockery of college
classmates and makes her klutzy debut in the mom and pop porno shop run by
characters played by Cloris Leachman and John Cullum.
“Salinger worked in a meat processing plant,” she recalls. “I will SUFFER
What she needs is a mentor. Enter Rat Billings, a struggling poet whose
greatest hit is “practically ancient” — 1989. She stalks the guy, who teaches a
little does a few readings and lives a semi-down and out existence just across
“I’m FEELING a lot,” Amy gushes. I’m writing a lot. I’m inspired!”
And all the veteran poet can do is not remember her correct name, avoid eye
contact and make sure there’s a closed door between himself and this obvious
“You WOULD be the sort of muse I’d get,” he growls.
“I was being sarcastic!”
Thus begins a lopsided relationship that involves her worshiping at his
feet, cleaning his house and trying to get him to read her poetry. She’s not his
type, so “muse” and anything romantic is out of the question. She’s a virgin,
after all — a virgin working in a porn shop, with inflatable this and vibrating
that, where videos cost extra is you return them sticky.
Shot over a winter, “Adult World” has a poetic gloom about it. When Rubia
(Armando Riesco), a transvestite “diva” who takes Amy in tries to help her chase
down the elusive Rat, they do it — a cross-dresser and a red-nosed virgin — on
a bicycle built for two through the snowy streets of Syracuse.
There’s nothing deep in this script, and the delayed romance, between
real-life lovers Roberts and Evan Peters (of “American Horror Story”) sets off
no sparks. The characters are sort of a grab bag of “types.” But
actor-turned-director Scott Coffey lets the laugh-out-loud moments in Andy
Cochran’s script zing. Roberts has a plucky, put upon pout that works well
enough in the part.
And Cusack, his hair still Reagan-blacked despite his advancing years, makes
a fine, nuanced crank, a cynic with secrets and a wisdom about the craft that
even Roberts, out of character, can take to heart.
“How do you feel about failure, as a concept? The artist’s job is to fail
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content and some drug use
Cast: Emma Roberts, John Cusack, Evan Peters, Armando Riesco, Cloris
Leachman, John Cullum
Credits: Directed by Scott Coffey, written by Andy Cochran. An IFC release.
Running time: 1:37