Family dynamics on the big screen tend to be depicted in one of two forms. There’s either the idealized family that gets along flawlessly, or the hopelessly dysfunctional lot, with not a ton in between. The Adults, seemingly determined to go its own way, is closer to the latter, but within a very intriguing shade of grey. This is unlike a family dynamic you’re used to seeing in film. Now, the movie isn’t always as engaging as that idea is, but in presenting a somewhat bleak family situation, it’s also showing something far closer to life than in most films.
The Adults revels in the raw feeling of dealing with your family. It may very well be deeply uncomfortable for some, either because it’s so far afield from their life, or because it lands so close to home. At the same time, the flick is giving you something you rarely see. This is quite reminiscent of early Noah Baumbach works, a la Kicking and Screaming. If that strikes your fancy, this is potentially an independent delight for you.
Eric (Michael Cera) has returned home for what he planned to be a short visit. He wants to see his siblings, who he hasn’t dealt with in a while, but he’s also seeking a win during a poker game with old acquaintances, while avoiding closer and longer friends. Of course, the trip keeps getting extended, due in large part to dealing with his sisters. Younger sister Maggie (Sophia Lillis) is happy to see Eric and wants to bring back the good times the three once shared together, while the older Rachel (Hannah Gross) is far more realistic, conflicted, and frustrated about it all.
As the trio deal with the differences between their childhood selves and the adults they’ve now become, Eric remains addicted to this poker game. They’ve been dealing with the loss of their parents, with older sibling Rachel bearing most of the burden, but this visit is bringing up old feelings, as well as generating new ones, too.
Michael Cera turns in some of his better work here, while Hannah Gross is terrific. Sophia Lillis is no slouch, either, and it’s no stretch to say these three make the film worth watching. Cera has a more complex character to play than usual, and while Eric can be grating, he gives him depth. Lillis has the warmest character, which suits her well, while Gross has do so some of the narrative heavy lifting. The scenes with the three of them together are obviously the highlights. Supporting players include Christopher Denham, Wavyy Jonez, Kiah McKirnan, Lucas Papaelias, and more, but it’s the main trio that grabs your attention.
Filmmaker Dustin Guy Defa sure seems to be working out some things with this flick. His writing really hones in on it, while the directing supports that vision. Defa is also very much focused on The Adults showcasing his leads, which is the proper decision. The mix of fairly biting dialogue and the compelling performances lets the premise get more mileage than you might expect. It runs a bit long and the pacing is slack, but you’re never bored.
The Adults didn’t blow me away back at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier on in the year, but it does have a specific voice that you can’t help but pay attention to. Throw in those three performances, and while it’s nothing to write home about, it’s still a movie well worth checking out. Standard issue family dramedy, this decidedly is not.