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‘Adult World’: John Cusack turns snide into wry


Rat Billings John Cusack

Amy Emma Roberts

Rubia Armando Riesco

IFC Films presents a film directed by Scott Coffey and written by Andy Cochran. Running time: 97 minutes. Rated R (for sexual content and some drug use). Opens Friday at Facets Cinematheque.

Updated: April 8, 2014 6:19AM

What’s not to like about a charming little movie about art, poetry and sex toys?

Well, the sex toy stuff is kind of silly and predictable, actually (“Do you have any more of those flame-retardant leather masks?”) and so is the warm, friendly little porn shop where it comes into play. And so are the cute, frisky elderly couple who own the place (Cloris Leachman and John Cullum of TV’s “Northern Exposure”). And so is the gruff transgender prostitute with the heart of gold (Armando Riesco) who hangs out there.

But “Adult World” does have some smart, funny and wincingly painful things to say about the desire to make art vs. the desire to be famous for it.

It’s the story of recent college grad Amy (Emma Roberts) who illustrates the double meaning of the title by clerking in a porn shop of that name and simultaneously having a hard time growing up. Amy is clueless, overconfident and absolutely certain she is destined to become a great poet. And she’s in a big hurry about it because you can’t be a wunderkind after you turn 22.

Amy hates working in the porn shop, of course, but she does it because she owes $90,000 in student loans and her parents have gotten sick of underwriting her artistic career. And because her ambitions are mollified, having stalked local literary celebrity Rat Billings (John Cusack) and forced herself on him as a protégé. Though the lessons she learns from him are mostly deflating — and ultimately cruel.

Cusack is at his best as the faded, fortysomething poet, once celebrated for his edginess and now reduced to teaching creative writing at a small-town university. As written, the role seems to call for bitterness and sarcasm. He brings something deeper, though, a bemused, subtly sardonic quality that transforms what might have been snide wisecracks into wry observations. It’s a performance that suggests wisdom and experience from someone who achieved fame early and never took it particularly seriously.

As a result, it almost seems out of character when Rat does something despicably mean to his unwanted acolyte. Though it’s precisely the sort of post-graduate shock she needs.

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