Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Film Review of Adult World: rob mclennan called – He wants his stuff back!

I don’t know if rob mclennan, Ottawa poet, wordsmith and walking-event extraordinaire, has ever befriended Adult World screenwriter Andy Cochran or director Scott Coffey. Because when I saw Adult World, starring John Cusack as curmudgeonly middle-aged poet Rat Billings, I thought that rob might want to make a call to get his winter coat and hat and a few mannerisms back.

As it stands, Adult World is imperfect, mainlly because of the fleshless back stories of interesting minor characters, but it pitches woo nonetheless. Its charmsgreat acting, a moody and humorous soundtrack and a distinct pulse of tribute underlying the storyfar outweigh such flaws. There is something particular and pastichey in the plot that drew me in as well.

Emma Roberts portrays Amy, a struggling young poet, fresh out of Syracuse University. She must, at her parents’ tough-loving insistence, make her own living instead of procuring money from her dad to pay the entry fees for poetry contest after contest. So Amy lands a job at Adult World, where, if the punny title doesn’t tell you already, she learns about being a grown-up, and not just in the Jenna-Jameson-and-Ron-Jeremy milieu. She learns to be a mensch. Amy also attempts to enlist John Cusack’s Rat Billings, her literary idol, as a mentor.

So, it’s a coming-of-age story forgasp!a young woman. In a sense, Adult World is a female-focused version of Say Anything, one of Cusack’s all-time great seminal films about an introverted teen trying to woo his romantic interest (Disclaimer: Along with Heathers and Pump up the Volume, I include Say Anything among my all-time favourite high-school-focused films that made real-life high school endurable.). Thirty years ago, Cusack would have played the quirky, odd, naive character that Amy has adopted. I wonder if she was channelling his quirkiness and antics. I also wonder if Cusack picked up the script because he saw that this was, well, Say Anything with a heroine instead of hero.

The film looks and feels, in its overcast settings, straight-as-an-arrow story arc, and its soundtrack, like an 1980’s flick. Ustate New York is always cloudy, an emerging poet’s ideal grist mill. Dan Boeckner, who used to be with Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs, did the entire soundtrack, which is funny and dark and ever-present.

Emma Roberts as Amy and John Cusack as Rat Billings
in a promo shot for Adult World.
Cusack's Billings had much success when he was younger. Now, he may or may not mentor Amy. Cusack is tall like Canadian poet, editor and publisher rob mclennan. Sure, there are differences in hair length and whatnot. But he acts like mclennan. He moves like mclennan. 

However, John Cusack’s character is certainly a grumpier version of mclennan. 
rob mclennan as himself.
mclennan’s free spirited breeziness, fun attitude and rapier wit have always been hallmarks. Like Rat, rob wields discerning (one might even go as far as to say snobby) eye for poetry, too. As for success at an early age, mclennan found poetic success in his twenties. He continues to do so, while illuminating and enriching what would otherwise certainly be a poorer Ottawa (and Can Lit) scene. Billing’s sparse apartment, with its one or two full bookcases, is not mclennan’s. This, my droogs, they got wrong. mclennan’s apartment, whether on Booth St. or Somerset St, was always piled high with books and comic books in every space you could see. And there was no space. There were books, and more books. And in such bookfull, cramped spaces, mclennan steered many an aspring poet toward finding ther voice, including founding the Peter F. Yacht Club and the resulting publication that still publishes today.

Getting back to Adult World, don’t get me started on Emma Roberts. I may not stop.  I have held a great fondness for her, both Roberts' looks and acting ability, ever since seeing her shred up the bloated film Scream 4 along with Neve Campbell, another of my screen darlings. (If I may be so bold and red-bloodied in revealing my predlilections for favourite actors).

I should also note that Amy’s possible love interest, her manager Alex, played by Evan Peters, steals some scenes. He’s funny, quirky and completely impossible not to crush on, whether he's talking art, or porn. Amy muses her way through a piece of erotica, and recalls seeing Alex at work. In a stunning turn of events, the viewer is treated to a shot of the manager up on a ladder, arms up, shirt riding up to reveal a treasure trail down his slim abs. What a singular and refreshing rarity to see this in a film after so many coming-of-age films objectifying women. And this objectification is sweet in its way.

If all this wasn’t enough, there is a superb drag queen character, Rubia, played by Armand Riesco, who is tough-as-nails, a great dancer, and a self-proclaimed diva. Her escapades with Amy include a bicycle chase scene (!) reminiscent of suburban characters also stalking John Cusack in Canadian author Peter Darbyshire’s debut novel Please.

So, this does beg the question... did the screenwriter find inspiration hanging out with rob mclennan and Peter Darbyshire?

And now back to the film and its flaws. Despite Billings' weird resemblance to someone I know, one never really gets to know Billings’ motivations—why he sneers at the young Amy, whether he truly wants to help or hinder her writing career, or why, or what has happened to make him how he is. (Ironically, real-life mclennan is a hootenanny to hang out with, unlike the cynical and somewhat vengeful Billings). One also doesn’t get to know much more about Rubia, save for an allusion to her tragic past.  

Still, Adult World is a satisfying, quiet film. It’s about growing and transforming. Amy must learn to listen, to observe, to notice the wider world around her, outside of her blinkered literary ambitions. As her world view expands, the viewer’s does somewhat as well. 

I suppose, likewise, that it is only fair to add that rob mclennan has been expanding readers' world views of poetry for over two decades. 

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