THE STORY – Eric’s plan to make a trip back home as short as possible begins to unravel as he finds himself balancing the challenging relationship with his two sisters and his addiction to a local poker game.
THE CAST – Michael Cera, Hannah Gross, Sophia Lillis & Wavyy Jonez
THE TEAM – Dustin Guy Defa (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 91 Minutes
There’s nothing quite like an estranged family member coming home and others holding their breath over what the homecoming will entail. Uncomfortable, awkward silences? Definitely. Fights? At least one, if not a series of them, all stemming from the same issue. Strange singalongs featuring weird voices and made-up characters from childhood? Only if you’re Michael Cera’s character in “The Adults.”
Dustin Guy Defa’s family drama brings complicated sibling relationships to the forefront as an older brother visits his two estranged sisters, who share vastly different feelings about the trip. For the most part, the film lacks much energy, but there is plenty of heart and soul in the trio of performances that give “The Adults” the emotional moments it needs.
Eric (Cera) has returned home to New York for a quick weekend trip to see his friend’s new baby and, begrudgingly, his sisters. It’s been three years since the siblings have seen each other, and they’re on their own now as both their parents have died. Maggie (Sophia Lillis), the youngest among them, is overjoyed to see her brother, while Rachel (Hannah Gross) doesn’t seem that interested in this reunion. As one can expect, awkward conversations, strained moments, and overall bad vibes are in the air. Hoping to avoid any conflicts or actually spending quality time with anyone, Eric sets up a poker game with people who don’t really care that he’s back in town.
We’re used to seeing Cera in comedic roles, but he takes a step back in “The Adults.” Rather than fill the awkward moments with jokes, he takes in the uncomfortable feelings associated with this trip. The strained relationship he has with Gross’ Rachel is truly difficult to watch at times, mainly because it’ll remind many of us of similar ones in our lives. It’s also heartbreaking to see how much Lillis’ Maggie tries to recreate the bond the three shared during childhood, all while her siblings sigh and unhappily play along.
Eric’s poker addiction and need to win keeps him in town much longer than anticipated, so there’s more time to spend with his sisters and dig deeper into the past. For Maggie, that means there’s a chance for the trio to come together once again, and there are moments when they relive the songs and characters they invented as children. But it’s not all fun and games, especially between Rachel and Eric, who aren’t entirely sure how to approach the other and don’t know if they even like each other anymore. He also learns that Maggie has dropped out of college and suffers from anxiety, which shows just how much he’s missed in three years.
The time Eric spends with his sisters allows the film’s emotional core to shine. There are feelings they don’t want to admit and things they want to say but keep holding back until it all leads to a cathartic moment where they all finally let themselves be the little kids that they still are. Cera, Gross, and Lillis give the film the boost it desperately needs. They fully give themselves over to the silly moments, like when they start using character voices to talk to each other and don’t hold back when emotions are high. The last moment Cera and Gross share, as the two siblings finally listen and are open to each other, is particularly rewarding.
As a whole, Defa’s script doesn’t spark much interest and holds a lot back from viewers. We don’t learn what Eric’s life back in Portland is like – other than he can easily extend his trip and has VIP status with the airline – and it makes it frustrating when you want to understand better the character and what he’s all about. There’s a bit more we can gather about Rachel and Maggie as we drop into their lives, but there are still many questions about them as well. The poker scenes also don’t add much to the story, aside from showing another side to Eric, and they get repetitive and feel lifeless. No one seems interested in playing the game besides Eric, and it’s easy to imagine many viewers feeling the same way about the movie.
Even if “The Adults” isn’t a total winner, it will have audiences think about their relationships with loved ones and the many changes they’ve gone through. We’ve all drifted apart from people in our lives, whether due to trauma or just life happening. But one can only hope that we all can find our way back to the people who matter most, just as this trio does.