Flashing back to a year earlier, we see Amy living with her family, trying to maintain enthusiasm as she sends repeated literary magazine submissions through the mail while ignoring mounting student loans and unemployment. Amy fancies herself a writer despite not taking drugs, having never traveled, and apparently still carrying her V-card into a post-collegiate existence. Pressed by her supportive folks, Amy decides to finally pursue the job market: despite a major in poetry, it's hard to believe that someone can go four years in college and be so tone deaf to the need for actual real-world employment.
Amy tends to collapse under a certain level of pressure, so when her parents double down on the concern, she flees to the only place she knows, an apartment of cross-dressing Adult World customer Rubia. With a sly combination of swagger and subtlety, Armando Riesco gives this character, a pot head prostitute with expertise in makeup, a full backstory, but the film simply won't communicate, and it becomes actively painful when "Adult World" keeps inorganically lunging back towards Rubia for a cheap joke. Similar treatment is given to Amy's conveniently cute co-worker Alex (Evan Peters), inexplicably turning the antiquated Adult World into an excellent place to develop connections. When Amy discovers that Josh's unrealistically big apartment houses his own artwork, you begin to actively hate Amy for her good fortune, and her continued selfish ditziness.
Roberts is an agreeable presence in other films, but given the lead, she can't seem to balance her comedic and dramatic instincts. She plays Amy as something of a spaz, but her affectations feel like sketch comedy stylings, and she fails to illustrate exactly what makes this character tick. Skilled actresses can create bipolar characters capable of mood swings, diverse creations that contain multitudes. Roberts, however, seems to be creating a new, less likable characterization for each scene, over- or underplaying it for maximum effect. The unfortunate truth is that it's her movie, and we're being held hostage waiting for the light to go on inside Amy's head. Dramatically, she's going to have her cake and eat it too, the center of the film's dismissive comedy and its salvation as well. Wanting to create a leading character worth rooting for, and experiencing the schadenfreude that comes from her failure, is a complex balancing act, one that "Adult World" simply cannot pull off. [D+]