When the oldest brother returns home after years away, estranged siblings deal with long-held grievances. The adults will test your patience as likeable but likeable characters exhibit odd behaviors and perform tiresome song and dance routines. No, this isn’t a musical, but in a subplot, they re-enact childhood fantasies through strange imaginary roles. To say that this quickly becomes boring and annoying is an understatement. The film is skillfully acted and realistically portrays the buried grudges we all hold towards our family members. There’s a decent amount of drama between the silliness. The problem is that the bad aspects torpedo the good intentions and significantly affect the pace.
Eric (Michael Cera) arrives at his hotel in upstate New York. He hasn’t been home to see his sisters since moving to Portland. Eric calls Rachel (Hannah Gross) and awkwardly tries to catch up with her. Little did he know her boyfriend had cheated on her and left her months ago. Rachel rebukes him for not caring. Eric hasn’t kept in touch with her or shown any interest in her life. He quickly tries to change the subject. How’s it going with Maggie (Sophia Lillis)? Rachel coolly replies that Maggie stopped going to college and moved out. A surprised Eric promises to come over later.
Eric knocks on the door of an old school friend. Dennis (Wavyy Jonez) seems remarkably indifferent to seeing him. Eric wants to know if he still plays underground poker games. Dennis informs him about a weekly low stakes game. Eric shows a tinge of excitement for the first time. He really wants to come. Dennis agrees but isn’t thrilled with the prospect.
Surprising musical numbers
Eric eventually meets Rachel and Maggie at a local restaurant. After a simple interaction with the waitress, the conversation is cut off. The first visible signs of anger and resentment between them make themselves felt. Later in the house, Eric’s comments about things not changing are not taken lightly. Rachel blames him for leaving her after her parents died. She had to take care of everything and prevent her house from being sold. He has no right to criticize anything. Eric tries to ease the tension but it just keeps getting worse. Rachel informs him that something is wrong with Maggie. She’s depressed and Rachel doesn’t know why. Maggie wants them all to get back together soon, but Eric prioritizes his poker games first.
The adults In the second act, things slowly simmer. We begin to see the personality differences that drove Eric and his sisters apart. Eric, a card shark poker player, becomes agitated and bitter when he loses a few hands on the first game. He urges the other players to keep going until he knocks them out. Eric isn’t worried about the money. The thrill comes from recognizing other players and defeating them strategically. He wants everyone to know that he is the best at the table. Eric’s gambling addiction leads to bigger problems as he gets invited to other higher stakes games.
Rachel and Maggie have never reconciled their feelings about Eric’s departure. They loved watching their brother grow up. His departure left a hole in her life. Rachel fills it with resentment while Maggie really can’t handle her feelings. Not knowing what to do with herself, she experiences several breakdowns as the story progresses. Maggie was just a child when her parents died. Eric and Rachel were her anchors for stability. She is a leaf blowing in the wind, desperate for attachment.
Writer/Director Dustin Guy Defa (Bad fever, from person to person) uses musical numbers as a common thread that binds the characters together and gives them the opportunity to express their anger. Maggie comes down the back stairs of her house, sings a silly song and dances. She wants Eric and Rachel to get involved like they did as kids. The initial reluctance evaporates when Rachel expresses her displeasure with Eric in a bizarre voice. He recognizes her young alter ego and responds to it. This opens the floodgates for the chorus of mudslinging as their bickering escalates until the inevitable decisive showdown.
The adults is a play on words as the protagonists act like children. They’re clearly not mature and haven’t taken the time to figure out the gap between them. This is at the heart of a story that unfolds almost painfully. They engage in juvenile antics instead of sitting down and coming to terms. This inability to make peace with yourself is not the problem. It makes sense to avoid confrontation and conflict to fuel even more fear. It’s just that Defa’s means of bringing them together is so upsetting. I wanted to plug my ears every time they started singing. It’s hard to empathize with characters when you find what they’re doing so incredibly distasteful.
The adultsby Dweck Productions and Savage Rose Films, had its US premiere in Tribeca Film Festival. It’s in theaters now, courtesy of Variance Films Universal images. You can check out the trailer below.