SCHOOL’S OUT FOR SUMMER (and Winter): ADULT WORLD and AFTER THE DARK


adult_world_marquee1Adult World is kind of an odd duck of a movie.  One of the things that makes it so odd is that it has at its center one Amy, who has to be the most unrealistic, most unbelievable, most underdeveloped character in a movie in some time.
Of course, in her defense, this is because she isn’t a real person by any strain of the imagination. 

She is, in fact, a construct, a thing created by the writer Andy Cochran to revolve the movie around and is no more flesh and blood and has no more dimensionality to her than, say, the sex toy that Alex, who manages the shop that provides the title for the film, blows up and can make speak.

Amy somehow graduated from college a virgin; has never been to a sex shop and is freaked out when she does so; has never come into contact with a transgendered person and is freaked out when she does so; and wants to be a poet for some reason that’s unclear and though she isn’t willing to do anything that helps make one such a person.  She has no concept of the real world or how it operates or anybody who is the least bit different from herself.

I would say she is naïve, but that would be an insult to people who actually are so.  I’d say she’s a college graduate with the level of innocence of a person entering high school, except she isn’t even realistic enough on that level.  I would say she is pretentious, but again, that would be an insult to all those of the pretentious persuasion.

She just isn’t anything.

But now here comes what makes the movie a really odd duck.

She is surrounded by characters that are so fully fleshed out, that are so impressively three dimensional, and that have such a depth and vibrancy to them that it puts most indie films to shame.  And I’m not just talking about those at the center.  The movie has one of those casts in which characters with only three lines and one scene come close to making just as much of a lasting impression as those the movie revolves around.

And to add oddity to oddity, all those characters are played by actors who are so good, they actually are able to treat Amy as if she is a real person rather than a badly programmed robot.

Some of these actors aren’t around as long as they should be.  Cloris Leachman and John Collum as the husband and wife owner of the sex shop bill and coo and then disappear.  But Evan Peters as Alex with his shaggy dog hairstyle and puppy dog eyes is quite disarmingly charming.   And Armando Riesco as the pre-op transsexual Rubia nearly steals the movie as only a diva in her own mind can.  But she can’t quite.

And that’s because John Cusack does so in his portrait of a bitter, world weary and cynical has been poet who wrote a wunderkind volume of verse at 18 and whose life has gone down hill from there.  He’s cruel and vicious and mean, but you can’t be mad at him for it because he doesn’t hide it; he fully lets Amy know what she’s getting into as she forces herself into his life begging him to be her mentor.  And he must have the greatest set of double takes and wide eyed starings in horror and amusement and incredulity since Jack Benny.

I don’t know how any of them did it; let’s just be thankful they did.

The movie is directed by Scott Coffey (who has a cameo as a bookstore owner).  He also wrote and directed another movie, Ellie Parker, which also spent an hour and a half humiliating a woman (and for reasons that still remain unclear to my mind).

But though Adult World has its mean moments, it’s nowhere near as misogynistically unpleasant as the earlier movie since the writer this time, Cochran, can’t bring himself to completely humble and debase his creation, but gives her an ending of sweet awakening.

And because of that, Adult World ends up being a rather good time.

After the dark movieI’m beginning to wonder if 2014 is going to be the year of the pretentious student.

First there’s Adult World.  But we also have After the Dark, which is about a group of the most pretentious students you’ll see in some time, who attend the most pretentious high school philosophy class you’ll see in some time, taught by not just one of the most pretentious teachers you’ll see in some time, but also one of the biggest douchebags with a touch of sociopathology about him to ever grace the celluloid in some time.

For the last day at an international school in Jakarta, Indonesia, this teacher has them play a game: each is given an occupation.  The apocalypse is nigh, but there’s only room for ten people in the bunker, so who do you choose to go in and who do you leave out?  This is actually a cute little game I played once in junior high; it was kind of fun and it did provoke some thought, but no one took it as seriously as the writer/director John Huddles does here.

And boy does Huddles take it seriously.  He takes every aspect of this movie seriously.  So seriously it’s very hard not to laugh at times, as when the teacher’s bestest student calls him a great teacher (I would have spit took if I had been drinking; instead I just had to guffaw loudly and then immediately cover my mouth in embarrassment) or when said teacher tells said student they’d make a great couple (yes, he’s sleeping with her and she’s cheating on her boyfriend and if you think they’d make a great couple then you must think George and Martha from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf are the poster child for the sacrament of marriage).

The game is played three times, with variations impishly added by the teacher twice and once by a student, supposedly to make the moral issues more muddled and difficult.

But the variations are so arbitrary (and often not that logical—in one scenario teach wants everyone to start mating immediately even though any babies born would rob the bunker of the oxygen they would need to survive), and everything about the fictional set up feels so catch as catch can, that after awhile there just isn’t any point to it anymore.

In fact, the way the teacher capriciously plays out the various variations on a theme, the only real conclusion one can draw is that it doesn’t matter what they decide because no matter what they do or who they chose, they all die.

Which would be fine (I mean, it’s a bit existential, but it’s actually a pretty good philosophical lesson to learn), except that didn’t seem to be the point of the game or the movie.

And which still might be fine if we didn’t find out in the last twenty minutes or so that nothing that came before is what the story is really about.  You see, there’s this, you know, twist? at the end that reveals that the teacher had an ulterior motive for all his actions.

Even that might be fine, except that once you find out what it is, none of the story makes that much sense anymore; the teacher’s choices almost never seem to have convincingly reflected this secret goal of his.

The acting doesn’t particularly help.  Everyone is so on the nose in their emotions and line readings, with everything so obvious and overly telegraphed.  They may have been taught philosophy, but subtlety apparently was never on the curriculum.  I think it’s safe to say that in this movie, Huddles doesn’t show a particularly deft touch with actors.

And Huddles can’t always seem to get the tone quite right.  There’s a running joke about a poet that is too viciously filmed to be funny and too much of a punch line to be taken seriously.  (At the same time, Adult World Amy should be thrilled she didn’t attend this school.)

But there is one area that must be praised.  The movie is shot at Prambanan Temple at Yogyakarta; Mount Bromo, East Java; Belitung Island, Indonesia; an airy classroom; and inside a beautifully designed bunker that is so amazing I’m not sure I’d want to leave it even when it was safe to do so.

Huddles and his director of photography John Radel make incredibly brilliant uses of these spaces, often giving the movie an excitement and tension that the screenplay and acting can’t quite seem to do.   What Huddles can’t do with the actors, he outdoes himself with the staging, leaving us at times with scenes that often sore in emotional resonance.

So it has to be said that there are, well, some moments that are utterly breathtaking and have a certain emotional power to them.

With Bonnie Wright and Rhys Wakefield as the teenage lovers and James D’Arcy as the teacher who doubles as a douchebag.

Advertisements

So tell me what you think.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s