Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This month: The A.V. Club atones for its sins of omission, recommending the best movies of the year that we didn’t review.
When critics and pundits talk about a given year’s best performances, it should be understood that what we really mean is “the year’s best performances in high-profile movies.” Terrific work often goes largely unnoticed, simply because few people see the film that showcases it. Even those who do see the film, and recognize that its cast kicked ass, generally prefer not to expend a lot of energy on what’s obviously a lost cause. There are no For Your Consideration ads touting Emma Roberts or John Cusack in Adult World, which came and quickly went (domestic gross: not quite $20K) in February, and you won’t see their names turning up in the year-end critics’ polls, either. All the same, their scenes together in Scott Coffey’s tart comedy about ambition and hero worship are among the most sheer fun the movies offered in 2014.
The film’s title refers to a porn shop at which aspiring poet Amy Anderson (Roberts) reluctantly starts working after her parents cut off her financial support. It’s mostly meant symbolically, though, as the film’s primary relationship is between Amy and her literary hero, Rat Billings (Cusack), a middle-aged burnout who begrudgingly takes her on as his protégé after she pesters him into submission. Cusack has spent the last several years sleepwalking through shitty action movies (this year alone: The Bag Man, Drive Hard, The Prince, Reclaim), but he somehow managed to shake himself awake for Adult World, portraying Rat as a bottomless font of sarcasm and hostility inflected with tiny hints of exasperated affection. And he’s ideally matched with Roberts (niece of Julia), who makes Amy a hilariously impassioned dork. There may be no finer duet this year than Amy’s mortifying attempt to seduce Rat, with Roberts fearlessly digging into her character’s confused, media-warped ideas about what’s sexy and Cusack expertly deflecting each volley. It’s the kind of inspired but low-key work that’s destined to be unjustly ignored at this time of year.
Availability: Adult World is available on DVD, which can be obtained from Netflix or your local video store/library, and to purchase through the major digital services.