The Adults is a very weird movie about siblings who do not communicate in the standard way. I sat there for a long time, waiting for it to give me conventional laughs. Those laughs didn’t come. Another kind did – the awkward, uncomfortable kind you get from watching people play out their personal dysfunctions. Like an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, the film invites you to find cringe humor in fundamentally messed-up people who can’t quite seem to figure out why they’re messed-up.
Eric (Michael Cera) returns to his childhood home for a brief visit. He hasn’t seen his sisters Rachel (Hannah Gross) and Maggie (Sophia Lillis) in a few years. Maggie is eager to spend time with him. Rachel is visibly less than happy about his appearance. The visit becomes extended when Eric gets involved in a local poker game. He can’t stand losing, so he sticks around, trying to get a big win. This occupies a huge chunk of his time, leading to an eventual blow-up with his sisters when they realize they are not his priority on the trip.
Okay, that’s normal enough. What isn’t normal is the way the siblings interact. We quickly learn that they were close as children, making up silly songs, creating fictional alter egos for themselves, and devising goofy dance routines. As grown-ups, they have never learned to talk to each other in a mature way. Whenever the vibe gets weird – which happens a lot – they revert back to this behavior. A heated exchange, for example, will find Eric putting on a British accent to play “Charles” and Maggie and Rachel reverting into impish characters called “Wug Wug” and “Mooby Mooby.” In the most mesmerizing scene, the trio attempts to heal by doing a bizarro dance to all four minutes of the 1983 Men at Work song “Overkill.” You’ll never hear that song the same way again.
Comedy in The Adults comes from watching these three people attempt to express complicated emotions to one another through these childish methods. Lacking appropriate vocabulary, they resort to what’s familiar. It succeeds because the actors commit themselves to the concept. Cera shows a fresh side to his talents as the closed-off Eric, a guy who works overtime to hide his feelings. Gross is hilarious as the acerbic Rachel, tossing off venomous wisecracks with precision timing. Lillis is perfect as the needy Maggie, who desperately wants to be affirmed by her brother.
It takes a while to get onto writer/director Dustin Guy Defa’s wavelength, and the movie could have used more family material and less poker. The Adults is still a bitterly funny movie with surprising insight into the ups and downs of the familial bond.
out of four
The Adults is rated R for language. The running time is 1 hour and 31 minutes.