RIORI Vol. 3, Installment 2: James L Brooks’ “Spanglish” (2004)


The Players…

Adam Sandler, Téa Leoni, Paz Bega and Cloris Leachman, with Sarah Steele, Shelbie Bruce, Ian Hyland and Thomas Hayden Church.

The Story…

John and Deb Clasky need a housekeeper. Flor needs a job to keep her and her daughter Cristina financially independent. Matriarch Evelyn needs to dry out. The Clasky kids need some focus. The dog does not need a ball. Flor’s daughter needs American opportunities. And all of them need to start communicating in a productive manner otherwise John’s business is going to crack, Deb will crack further, Evelyn will crack open another bottle and the kids will turn to crack. And the dog is gonna trash the house. Really. After all these mixed signals, who needs more trash?

The Rant…

My father once inadvertently gave me some sage advice.

In my misspent life so far, I often recall his little nugget with a sigh and a shake of the head. He and I don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, but his words of wisdom at certain times bounce around my brainpan with sharp clarity.

Dad said that most of the world’s problems stem from a lack of communication. That, and high fructose corn syrup. But if you look around at the world—or at least what the cable news networks beat you over the head with 24 hours a day—my Dad may have been right. People get all bent out shape over issues like money, religion, politics, family and whose turn it is to take out the garbage. No one seems to listen to each other, and some people just won’t shut the hell up. Your voice at any given time is the most important sound in the galaxy, regardless of the topic and often the audience.

Nowadays, communication doesn’t even to need an audience. Not an immediate one anyway. With all the FaceBook posts and Tweets rattling around the Web at millions of bytes per second, does anyone really care who’s listening anymore? Most folks sure as sh*t don’t really care. I mean, some FB posts are way too personal for my sanity. People forget it’s an open forum, and do I really want to see the MRIs of that lime-sized tumor in your inner left thigh? No. No I don’t. Unlike.

It’s like everyone in the First World is talking about everything and saying nothing. No one listens, no one hears, and yet we still keep trying to get some point across. About what we have no idea. I blame the cradle, where we grew up. The first words you hear are usually mom’s, maybe the doctor’s cry “It’s a boy/girl (minus the slash, of course)!” Our first introduction to the world is people talking at you. Not with you; you ain’t there yet. Here’s where the troubles begin.

Me? I think problems with lousy communication start with the family.

We’ve all come a family, right? That’s where the hassle begins. I was born into a family. Maybe some of you were too? It’s supposed to be about open exchange of ideas and manners and community, socializing and creating opinions. Supposed to be. But reality intrudes, the diapers come off (hopefully by the time you’re 12) and let’s face it, every member of a family takes a side, sometimes knocking the whole civilized facade over. More often than not, every side takes a side that is a side of one.

Here’s an example: when you’re a kid, your Mom and Dad are the alpha and omega. They were infallible, and as sure as eggs is eggs, mom and dad would never steer you wrong. Then puberty hits, and the almighty parents seem more like tyrants; what do these, these f*cking “adults” know about growing up? They’ve already been there, so what do they know about what’s what now is anyway? And what’s up with that crappy music? Who’s Paul McCartney?

Later, around your mid-20’s (if you’re lucky), you come to realize that your parents are basically cool people, did the best they could, and you were the butthead all those years. But you didn’t listen. Check that: you didn’t want to listen, to mom, dad or their Beatles’ albums, which probably you now own and/or stole from their record collection. Now you can’t come out and say those six words: you were right, I wasn’t listening.

It takes a lot of humility to admit we’re wrong. It’s takes a lot of fortitude to truly speak our minds. And it takes either a careful reticence of words or copious amounts of beer to convey some actual meaning to an audience that counts.

I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “What the f*ck is he talking about?”

See? You weren’t listening. You were probably scanning YouTube for the latest video of cute cats doing macramé to the dulcet tunes of Katy Perry’s “Roar.” Drop the mouse and listen up. That’s right. Listen. Pay attention. Pocket the iPhone and please shut the f*ck up.

Remember Dad, in his finite wisdom, and let’s try to communicate in a productive manner. Let’s not be like the Clasky household…

John Clasky (Sandler) and his wife Deb (Leoni) are in dire need of a domestic. Deb has just gotten out of the investment business (read: fired) and is ill-equipped to manage a household. John as a reluctant four-star chef can’t balance his time equally between business and family. And there are the kids to consider, not to mention Deb’s freewheeling, boozy mom Evelyn (Leachman). Plus, there’s a crazy dog that needs a lot of walking and not fetching. The Clasky clan has gotta find a center to their bustling, verging on dysfunctional family dynamic.

Flor (r-r-r-r…Bega) has recently emigrated (and read: jumped the border) from Mexico and landed both she and her daughter Cristina (Bruce) into the barrio of LA, looking for the “American Dream” (read, once again: a good job). Flor’s cuz knows of this well-to-do family in need of a housekeeper that could probably pay a fair wage to keep Flor and Cristina financially solvent but still maintain their Hispanic roots.

Despite her age, Cristina knows that to make it north of the border you gotta learn English. Flor views such formality an affront to her proud Mexican heritage, and refuses to learn a lick. But there’s this job to consider, as well as Cristina’s well being. And the Claskys seem like nice people—albeit off the wall— so one must be ser flexible.

But how much to bend? John seems like a decent man. Deb looks like she needs massive therapy. Evelyn needs 28 days. And the Clasky kids Bernie (Steele) and George (Hyland) need fully functioning parents. Flor knows all the troubles of being a single mom without a family to back her. Now she ends up having to back this family? Well, with Cristina as her envoy, maybe Flor can find a middle ground to both stand firm and still earn a steady paycheck to keep the wolves at bay. Then again, who knew such a pack lived in suburban LA?

It’s all gonna be a dream deferred…

Sorry to tag that with a clipped quote from Hughes. Still, the guy knew poetry and the troubles of being a needful outsider, so again, shut the f*ck up. I already claimed you didn’t listen, and when I said Hughes I wasn’t referring to John. Get it?

Good (sigh).

Oy, this was tough, and not just the movie either. Recently, I had to retreat to my bedroom, wire up an old, first-gen flat screen TV with a beater DVD player just to get some privacy from family suffering from either insomnia or the midnight munchies. They always want to join me (read yet again: interrupt) and watch these so-called mediocre movies in my hopeful, misbegotten privacy. I now know I need a man cave. One with a portcullis.

I never knew how tough it was to be a mediocre critic of mediocre movies and try to ignore an audience. After all, it was the faceless, nameless, potential audiences I claimed to let them in on the know, before God. Well, on the topic of miscommunication, I guess I bend to that sway sometimes too.

Now then.

Ahem, this was tough. Backed by the Lady in the Water precept, didn’t you just want a movie to go right when others said wrong, wrong, wrong? Me too. The idea of a family comedy, one with an extended family and even in a sense adopted foreign family should be rife with opportunities about culture shock and clash, crazy humorous bickering, that crumbly pretense of normalcy of a family desperately trying to patch it up with chewing gum and duct tape. Hopefully all of it would be wrapped up in a smart outer layer coating a gooey, sentimental center, with chuckles all around.

Sometimes you cannot wave from popular opinion.

I heard gripes about Spanglish for a long time, but it was mostly superficial stuff. Things like Sandler not playing his usual, trademark buffoon schtick for laughs. My thoughts? His routine can get very grating and overdone. I am as surprised as you are. Y’know, like for (*does some quick math on fingers and toes*) his kersmillion comedies out there, pressed onto DVD, VHS, streamed, Edison coils, either all released, unrealized or still just a mote of dust in the mind of some kookoo producer. Sandler’s loud, goofball thing has served him well, and he’s probably been laughin’ to the bank the whole time. Still, here? Mostly mellow Sandler is a welcome thing now and again, if only to show he can be mellow It’s almost ironic that Sandler portrays a chef; chefs are decidedly not cool-headed people and prone to volcanic freak-outs. Besides, it’s not like he hung up the clown shoes after Spanglish.

There was also issue taken with how truly unlikeable Leoni’s character was. Deb is a neurotic nightmare. Even the characters we are not supposed to root for have at least one redeemable quality that would either be: a) later revealed as the plot devices carefully scrape away the bile and bitterness to expose the tender, misunderstood heart within, or; b) something the audience could relate with (a little warmth, a little pity, etc). Not Deb; she is an overanxious ball of nerves whose thoughts come across as so disjointed you find yourself wondering, “Is she really that f*cking insane? And how does Sandler put up with it?” Audiences didn’t put up with it much either.

And there were those adorable moppets, the kids, who despite this being an ensemble family drama ended up mostly as wallpaper. Cardboard cut-outs that didn’t really push the story along very well. Even one of the little buggers was, in essence, the center of the story, and even she was relegated to the sidelines most of the time.

So there were a lot of complaints. My sources came from the IMDb, good ol’ reliable Rotten Tomatoes and, of course, Box Office Mojo—along with what people told me with eyes rolled Heavenwards—to hang over this movie. Again, it was not unlike the flak dished out for Lady in the Water by yours truly. A character study of a non-nuclear family mixed with culture clash and language barriers isn’t a new thing. Hell, Dances with Wolves earned Best Pic for it, so folks know about this often used device. But the message of the movie, what I wanted to get out of Spanglish was…um…er…

I wanted to get a message. Any message. Moral, social, text. Something.

Director Brooks is known for telling stories about communication—or the lack thereof—and how it not only reflects individual social interactions (e.g. Terms of Endearment, As Good As It Gets, Broadcast News, etc.), but also American society as a whole. He’s been producing The Simpsons since its inception, so the guy knows a thing or three about kooky family dysfunction. The whole cast of Spanglish is endlessly flapping their lips and not saying anything. The whole movie’s raison d’être is absent. To quote Gert Stein, “There’s no there, there.”

But let’s break it down, by the numbers.

Spanglish’s story is pretty simple. The whole culture clash thing. Rich paired against not so much. Token outsider—conveniently played by a foreigner—gets swept up in the family dynamic and injects some much needed perspective on the whole mess. There’s that language barrier thing, too. Simple. Been done before. Will be done again.

Here’s a surprise: it’s been done better than Spanglish has here. Dances with Wolves was all about that. Other good examples include Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger than Paradise and even that very-80’s sci-fi Robinson Crusoe caper Enemy Mine tangled with perils of communication breakdowns and their eventually being overcome. Those movies were about learning to communicate, and doing so a metaphor for peace, understanding and teamwork. Not the case here. We’re bludgeoned with the whole “too much talking and saying nothing” contrivance over and over and over again throughout the movie, and it gets very trying after a while.

And it doesn’t even lead to anything. Apart from all the verbiage—English and Spanish alike—other forms of communication are employed for naught regarding advancing the already tenuous story allegedly about Cristina and Flor. There’s a lot of emoting via facial mugging and deliberate speech here (Leoni seems to be channeling a low-level Sybil), but not necessarily by body language, which is if you think about it, for the better part of the film, Flor’s only way to get what’s going on is to read the Clasky’s faces and movements. It’s kind of like anti-mime (which sounds like a pretty good thing if you ask me). But all of it goes nowhere.

This is particularly damning when there are many flourishes or suggestions of how Spanglish could’ve made for some halfway decent entertainment. The subplot of Deb finding worth as a mom in Cristina’s eyes against Bernie’s deference to dad would’ve made for some juicy tension if it didn’t come across as so flat and hinging so one-sided to Deb’s crazy. The whole “performance anxiety” trail John follows fizzles out after awhile, rather than cloud his sense of responsibility versus ego. Lastly, a glaring omission for under using some acting is Leachman. She’s a delight here, and there’s a lot to her backstory, especially in how she relates to her grandkids. But instead she’s more or less releagated to scenes not unlike awkward comedy sketches. She has sweetness tempered with bile, and this is never fully realized not explored. Spanglish has a lot of these half-baked ideas paired with wasted opportunity, and the whole story about Cristina making her way into the world gets all tangled up and seemingly discarded in the overwhelming hijinks of the Clasky clan.

My ranting above how social media is more or less making us less social (i.e. no one pays attention to each other anymore). The art of conversation, with all its words and sounds and need to use your ears and no snappy emoticons at the push of a button and having to feign interest (not dissimilar to what you’re doing here) has all but vanished. It’s all making us unable to talk without using sound bites and enough room to give someone barely the time of day, what with your nose glued to your Android and all. We don’t notice or know our own miscommunication anymore. That might have been the message behind Spanglish, what with all its dysfunction and Three’s Company­-like mixed signals. No one listens, no one understands, no one is willing to accept any incoming feeds about others’ needs or wants. We’re all too tied up in our own bullsh*t. Maybe that was what Brooks was trying to get across, but I don’t know. Seemed the culture clash thing was supposed to be the whole crux, but the story got hijacked by the antics and antagonism of upper-class, white liberal guilt. And maybe too much corn syrup.

No shocker here, but I had a hard time watching Spanglish. It wasn’t the plot was too obtuse or the acting that dreadful. There was just this lack of momentum here, which in turn failed to engage me. It felt like this: have you ever been reading a book only to come to the conclusion about halfway through you don’t like it? But then you grit your teeth and squint and sally forth anyway out of some sense of spite? You’re not going to bested by some book, by God! Well, I was determined to not be bested by Spanglish. I tried watching the movie three times. Now I’ve been known to occasionally re-watch my victims here at RIORI. You know, in case I missed something or was too pished to remember it (hey, it happens. If you forced yourself to watch of these clunkers, you’d need a drink, too). Re-watching and re-re-watching Spanglish was both an exercise in futility and teeth-grinding. And I eventually lost the fight.

For a guy who places a serious emphasis on the importance of communicating, Brooks failed to send us any real message with Spanglish.

Hey, you still listening?



The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. I all but gave up by the second act, that and the disc kept skipping out on me. I need full streaming on this new/old unit. Talk about a breakdown in communication. Oh yeah, and the movie wasn’t that good. Thanks a lot, Dad.

Stray Observations…

  • “Double gulp!”
  • Second best fake orgasm ever.
  • “I don’t exist!” “Ah, sure ya do.”
  • Finally, Sandler’s screaming come in handy.
  • “I slept.”
  • Story has it Sandler met with and learned a few things from esteemed chef Thomas Keller to get into character. He wasn’t listening too well.
  • “Well, I’m broke.”
  • I notice the less I like a movie, the fewer notes I take.

Next Installment…

Breaking news! The President has been abducted by terrorisrs! Is the country under siege? Is the White House Down? Further updates and snarky movie reviews may provide some answers. Back to you…


RIORI Vol. 2, Installment 29: Scott Coffey’s “Adult World” (2013)

Adult World

The Players:

John Cusack, Emma Roberts and Evan Peters, with Armando Riesco, John Cullum and Cloris Leachman.

The Plot:

Recent college graduate Amy is sure she’s going to be a famous poet. But until then, if it ever happens, she reluctantly takes a job at an “adult” bookstore to make ends meet. Meanwhile, inspired by some found work by isolated post-punk poet Rat Billings, she decides to stalk out her muse in hopes to find a mentor. It does not go well, as such things often do.

The Rant:

For a few of the recent installments here at RIORI, I’ve waxed both nostalgic and poetic about my salad days in college. Being a post-modern English/Education/Philosophy student (with nary a whit of modesty) that I was, allow me to drop you some science. You want to know where the term “salad days” came from? No? Tough. My blog, my rules. It hails from (who else?) William Shakespeare. It’s from Antony and Cleopatra:

“…My salad days, when I was green in judgment; cold in blood…”

The phrase has since been adopted as the go-to excuse for the impulsive decisions we choose in our callow youth. Like getting a tattoo, or getting your labret pierced, or bleaching your hair, or smacking around a sh*t-ass drumkit for some going-nowhere notion of a rock band, or going to hole-in-the-wall clubs seeming built out of graffiti, spent plastic beer cups, cigarette butts, puddles of puke and a sense of self-satisfaction, or wasting hundreds of dollars on import CDs of your then favorite cult band via the demon eBay. Green in judgment? Cold in blood? Sounds like my punker days at ol’ SU. Tattoos, piercings, two-toned hair, wannabe-garage-band-on-the-side, a stupid tab at an unattractive trough, and an unhealthy collection of Joy Division and Ramones bootlegs. Good times, good times.

Hey. It was the ‘90’s. Back off. To wit, Oasis actually had a career then. Chilling.

Anyway, there you have it. My alma mater in a weak nutshell. I’m not wholly sure if I ever name-dropped the school I got the degree from here, but now you have it. Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences. Huzzah. It was a good school. I learned a lot. Studied under some very good professors. Made a lot of cool friends. Did a lot of self-exploration. Read more post-modern and deconstructionist philosophy than any sane person would or should. It was the place to be for an aspiring educator and writer like myself to be schooled.

Of course I’m looking back on my days at Syracuse with a bleary lens. The college may have been grand, but the local scene and the town itself was beat. Imagine a grey metropolis worn down by urban blight and self-resignation with the art scene a weak, glowing ember under foot of the townies who didn’t really care for the student body in the first place. The only bright spots the city had going for it was the school, an sort-of gentrified, Boehme neighborhood downtown where the cool record shops, clubs and restaurants were, and a massive, opulent shopping mall built over the site of a former toxic waste dump (really). If you haven’tve ever been through such a town, imagine Bridgeport, CT or Allentown, PA with a Café Wha? right next to the welfare office and there you have Syracuse.

I never could understand the malaise the locals had towards the students. After all, the university was the highlight of the town, and the students brought business. I’d like to believe that the isolated, staid culture that hung over the cities along in the lee of Lake Ontario—Syracuse, Rochester, Oswego—were a result of the muting consequence of “lake-effect weather” which drove everybody indoors for the better of a year. Cold rains in the spring, stuffy air in the summer and perpetual swirling snowstorms around the New Year. The winters were eternally grey, a steel-colored sky that casted its pall over the town starting at Halloween and eventually dissipating come Easter. The snow and ice would hang in the air, never really collecting. It was like being stuck inside a snow globe, minus the whimsy. Due to the climate—social and otherwise—the lack of hospitality from the townies rendered the college scene an entity unto itself, cards held close to the chest, a bulwark against the willful hostility and decidedly xenophobic residents of the Salt City. Maybe it was the notions of the locals that the students came from a monied background and thought they were somehow better than the locals (who had been suffering from economic damage for decades, the city slowly going under while the college thrived). Jealousy. Maybe that and there were a lot of non-white people being deposited into the community courtesy of fall enrollment every August. I dunno.

In any event, partially due to the influx of new faces from across the country (and often from across the globe), Syracuse generated a certain literary-minded quality. A lot of noteworthy writers had strolled though the college and surrounding community over the years. Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff, William Safire, Joyce Carol Oates and Shirley Jackson to name a few. Even Stephen Crane attended classes at SU once (but he never did graduate). The place was a quiet hotbed of would-be and sometimes successful writers and journalists, and the snow-weary brick homes around the school had the air of quiet desperation that comes with the mostly solitary act of writing. Salad days or no, my times and explorations at SU allowed me a certain degree of youthful woolgathering, dreaming of the day when I would be a published author, living in a quiet brick house with a solid oak door, roaring fireplace, and Friday evenings with the local literary elite. The residential parts of town had the romantic air of JD Salinger somewhere barricaded against the wintery weather and open hostility of the general public to hunker down over the typewriter and write for his own pleasure, and no other audience.

Salad days, remember? Despite the grey—or maybe because of it—my imagination grew fallow, green at Syracuse. It was only the naïveté of English students such as myself that created such a romantic, unrealistic view of a dumpy burg with a killer philosophy department. Seems that I wasn’t alone in my mind’s eye. Such fanciful notions seemed to have rubbed off on Adult World’s writer Andy Cochran and director Coffey…

Virginal college grad Amy (Roberts) is a fledgling poet, already entrenched in both the starving artist schtick and a need for a “real job.” Problem is, apart from hundreds of rejection letters for the various publications that have been stuffing the mailbox, there aren’t any real job prospects in Central New York for a budding rhymester. Her parents aren’t having a hard time reminding her of the thousands of dollars of student loan debt that’s been racked up, so since push has come to shove, and Amy’s prospects are slim, she better find some source of real income soon…or else.

Dragging her ass home one night after an abortive house party, Amy stumbles upon an abandoned car stuffed full of tattered books (of all things). She absently snatches a hardcover at random from the pile. In her hands is a copy of poetry written by one Rat Billings (Cusack). After thumbing through the book, Amy realizes that she has discovered her muse. Rat’s writings are just what she has always aspired to create. Now, if only she could meet the actual man…

Wait! He’s local! Time to get stalking.

But before she stars her quest, there’s that little matter of personal finance to tackle. After unsuccessfully trying to get a legit job (turns out there just aren’t many opportunity for majors in poetry out there than Amy hoped to believe), she happens on a dumpy shop with a HELP WANTED sign in the window. What the hell. Inside she discovers, to her horror, that the joint is an adult sex shop. XXX videos. Spank books. Anal beads. Hot cocoa. The place has it all. It’s called Adult World, imaginatively enough, and the kindly co-owner Mary Ann (Leachman) is delighted that a college grad would take interest in the position (better than some slacker high school snot). Amy balks at first, but a job is a job—and it doesn’t hurt that the friendly assistant manager Alex (Peters) is easy on the eyes—so, again, what the hell.

Back to the stalking: turns out that Rat is a reclusive writer, not to mention (surprise!) a misanthrope and a cynic. No matter to Amy; Rat’s doing a book signing town, and here’s the perfect opportunity to plumb the mind of a real, published poet, albeit a minor one. We’re not talking Sylvia Plath here. But his work spoke to her, which is a shade more compelling than meeting the needs of the losers who queue up at Adult World for the latest video releases and a jar of Vaseline. Maybe Rat’ll converse with her. Maybe he’ll read her poetry. Maybe he’ll give her some help, some constructive criticism. So bowled over by her raw talent, maybe he’ll take her his wing as a protégé!

Maybe he’ll tell her to go take a flying leap…

Adult World is a movie described by an adjective I have never used here at RIORI: charming. Sure, the movie is derivative, predictable and Roberts’ acting can get really annoying, but Adult World feels greater than the sum of its parts. Feels mind you, not is. It’s a polite, pleasant film with a few laughs, a great setting (regardless of my bias), and an easygoing pace. It’s quietly engrossing in its own way, kinda like when you’re stoned and find yourself staring at a strawberry for over an hour. You don’t feel like your wasting time watching the movie, but 90 minutes slip by regardless when you could’ve been doing something more productive. Like the strawberry would have waited for you.

But Adult World does indeed have its charms. The movie slipped under the radar upon its release in 2013. It saw a few reviews, mostly mixed. The only real highlight of the film that both audiences and critics alike picked up on was John Cusack’s performance as Rat. Now I have been a Cusack fan ever since adolescence, and not just because of his breakthrough role as Lloyd Dobler in …Say Anything (ah yes, the iconic boombox/Peter Gabriel scene. Often imitated but never duplicated, which launched the ships of many a cheesy teen romcom). I’m no snob when it comes to films. Not really, despite my endless polemics here at RIORI. I loved Cusack’s salt mine years with such goofy throwaways in the 80’s like Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer (both live-action cartoons, really. Summer had the delightful kooky cast of a very young Demi Moore, Curtis “Booger” Armstrong and unhinged, screechy comedian Bobcat Goldthwaite chewing scenery. Not to mention Cusack’s bit part in Sixteen Candles. All classics). In those trifles, Cusack honed his loveable loser persona. Awkward, earnest, often innocent and sometimes snarky, he had this endearing quality that one hoped transferred to real life. I’m not certain if Cusack is a dick in real life; I hope not.

Anyway, people argued for the fact that Rat Billings was the best role Cusack’s had in years. This is true. After shuffling through big-budget clunkers like 2012 and The Raven, (there was a little gold in there with Hot Tub Time Machine. Very little), Cusack seemed better as playing minor roles. Not necessarily as an actor but as low-key characters, self-effacing and sincere. I mean, all of the characters in Adult World are stereotypical, interchangeable ciphers, but since Cusack’s acting has always been kind of fluid (albeit in that signature hangdog way), his placement in the film seems just right. It’s not as if the role stretched him as an actor, but instead it played to his strengths and in turn fell right at home here.

This can’t be said of winsome, perpetually 16 year old Roberts. Her Amy is banal, annoying and pigeonholed into your average wide-eyed college student as can be. Seems here that Roberts is attempting to shed her skin of her CV of dreadful tween flicks (better so than We’re the Millers). She’s doing it without resorting to being sordid like an adult Lindsey Lohan. Adult World is a far cry from Hotel for Dogs, but Roberts is just too innocent and naïve to play, well, innocent and naïve. Amy is a stereotype, and not a terribly convincing or relatable one at that. And the starving artist deal has been done countless times before, and with a lot better results. Roberts plays naïve to the hilt, and it gets kinda tiresome.

Adult World has a goofiness one can find endearing. But it also has all the familiar trappings of indie films over the past 25 years, set to the de rigueur quirky soundtrack. This is a cut-and-paste kind of affair, and you can apply whatever redeeming values you have toward the film as you can conjure up. Adult World isn’t breaking any new ground here. I don’t think that was Coffey’s aim. This is a movie designed to be seen in the early evening with a date as a prologue to a cuppa at the local coffee shop, but not any notions of carnality in the future. Still, for all its Central New York blah, Adult World is entertaining, if only to see Rat grumble and ward off the spunky Amy who is so (predictably) blinded by art that she fails to register she sells dildos to make ends meet. Huh, that might be the story of hundreds of recent college grads who walked away with a degree in poetry. Or English and Critical theory. Or architecture for that matter.

I was trying not to view Adult World with the friendly, blurry eyes of nostalgia. I know the story takes place on my old stomping grounds, and it’s easy to confuse memory with actuality. The movie does carry a predictable meter, but somehow retains it charms. Must be the dialogue. That and Cusack’s “comeback” performance (OMG. Rat was me in college. Now I have to learn to hate myself. I’m comfortable with that). You see a lot of the story coming, but it’s a laid-back trip, which makes for a relaxing stroll around the grimy streets of Syracuse to take in the local lack of color. Who knows? Adult World might give you a hankering for a visit to Syracuse to check out its small, literary underworld. There are a lot of homes that look like Rat’s digs.

Just don’t say you’re from the college. Your accent would give you away and you’d just receive unfriendly stares and a face full of snowballs. Even if it’s June.

The Verdict:

Rent it or relent it? Rent it, if only as a lark. Adult World has been done before, and with more verve, but if you’ve missed the Cusack of old, here he is.

Stray Observations:

  • Suicide by electric oven. Yeah, it doesn’t work that way.
  • “There’s a lot of kiwis…”
  • That’s the director Scott Coffey as the bookstore owner. He kinda looks and acts like a college bookstore owner, don’t he? Must be the haircut.
  • “Have sex with me.” “No.”
  • I think I need a graph like that. Some things coffee cannot exorcise.
  • “Don’t take my napkins!”
  • Holy sh*t. I’ve eaten in that restaurant. The place was mediocre, but it had great lighting.
  • My wife and I used to kiss like that. I guess I better get back to that novel.

Next Installment:

Commercialized music got you down? Can’t find a place to hear all your favorite indie rock songs? Hate Katy Perry? You should start yourself your very own Pirate Radio station!