An American dream, set in a porn shop ...

February 14th, 2014
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Evan Peters as Josh, Emma Roberts as Amy, in "Adult World."

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John Cusack, as Rat Billings, in "Adult World."

Remember Scott Coffey, an ex-Honolulu actor who has evolved into a writer, producer and director of Hollywood films?
He appeared in such 1980s films as “SpaceCamp” and “Ferris Beuller’s Day Off,” then in titles like “Tank Girl” and “Lost Highway” in the 1990s? He found a creative niche in the early 2000s, acting in “Mulholland Drive: and writing, producing and directing the critically acclaimed “Ellie Parker,” which starred his good friend Naomi Watts.
Flash forward to 2014, and Scott Coffey’s latest, “Adult World,” out today (Feb.14), is only in theaters in New York and Los Angeles. For now, anyway.
But there’s a reason: Coffey, 46, is going the video on demand (VOD) route with his latest directorial effort, a tiny under-the-radar project which would be overwhelmed without special handling. Instead of competing with Valentine’s traffic at the cinema, you can order and download here and now, since the film likely won’t be on an island screen till March. Local film-on-demand sources like Oceanic Time Warner and Direct TV offer “Adult World,” which also is available on iTunes and other Mainland cable companies including Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, Metrocast and Suddenlink. IFC Films picked up distribution of the picture following its recent Tribeca Film Festival debut.
“It’s a small indie film,” said Coffey, speaking via cellphone from Venice, Calif., where he now resides and was enjoying the golden sunset much like the kind he used to experience in Honolulu. “We decided to go VOD because of our target audience,” he said of the Millenials, the crowd which commonly seeks entertainment virally. “There’s an audience out there that don’t go to theaters to see movies.”
Different folks means different strokes.
And “Adult World” clearly is not Valentine’s Day fare, despite its VOD presence the same day that red roses and chocolates compete for attention. It’s got some romantic sizzle, but it’s somewhat of a commentary of social mores and the status of the selfie generation. Further, its title refers to a porn shop — no, nothing embarrassing or dirty — that gives a particular edge and sauciness in the storytelling.
The movie, written by Andy Cochran, was a Critic’s Pick in this week’s Village Voice, which thrills Coffey. “I was fearing the worst, but got a rave, from the publication I’ve been reading for years. I think the critic was Pauline Kael’s protégé; she’s tough and smart and she really got it,” he said of the rave he earned.
It’s just one of life’s pleasant surprises when you’re in the movie biz. Some like it, some don’t. You worry, you sweat, you face the firing line.
But he had a notion he was on to something good, lured by the central figure who represents a wedge of reality today. He had to build a porn store, a focus point in the story, and shot his flick in Syracuse, N.Y. The Village Voice critic, Stephanie Zacharek, said, “Coffey captures the beauty and safety of living in a smallish place were people know and care about you. And the filmmakers understand that you can find amazing, wonderful, eccentric people anywhere. ‘Adult World’ reminded me of a truth I sometimes forget. Apparently, Amy (the central character) isn’t the only one who’s still learning to be a grown-up.”
“I like the lead character Amy,” said Coffey of his attraction to the film. “She’s a college graduate, complicated, interesting; seems emblematic and metaphorical for the Millenials. Over coddled; raised to think she can be anything she wants to be. Wants to be famous; needs constant adoration; gets attention on My Space and Instagram. Hers is a different American dream, but the American dream now is not what it used to be.”
Amy is portrayed by Emma Roberts, the daughter of actor Eric Roberts and the niece of Julia Roberts.
“She’s perfect as Amy; I’ve known of her for years, since Julia is a good friend. I saw some great actors, but none were perfect for Amy. The second I met Emma, I knew she was the one.”
Amy so wants to become a famous poet, but she can’t land a job. “The only one she can find is one in a porn shop operated by Cloris Leachman,” said Coffey. “Amy is awed by a somewhat mean, famous, and older poet Rat Billings, played by John Cusack. She is somewhat arrogant; she stalks him; she ingratiates him; but she wants to be like him. But all she wants is fame. And fame is like the contemporary black plague.”
Amy begs Billings to hire her as a protégé at Syracuse University. Even if he doesn’t particularly like her poetry.
“That’s one of the joys of directing,” said Coffey. “I’m so much happier not being an actor. I work now with all these actors I hadn’t worked with before.”
He found Cusack a wonder and an inspiration. “We really had a great relationship,” said Coffey. “I loved him; we were simpatico about the same things. A lot of his scenes, he improvised, as we worked and stayed up late at night. I appreciated this style of collaboration, even shooting. He’s very, very sensitive, and creditably intelligent.
“It was fun to watch him, too. He’s still very handsome and no longer that teen guy anymore, so he took riff on that a little bit.”
As a youth, Cusack starred in such teen fare as “Class,” “Sixteen Candles” and “Stand by Me” and adult flicks like “Bullets Over Broadway,” “Grosse Pointe Blank,” “Cradle Will Rock,” “High Fidelity” and “Being John Malkovich.”
The movie also stars Evan Peters, who plays Josh, the porn shop manager. Peters is best known for his role as a teenage sociopath murderer, Tate Langdon, in the first season of FX’s “American Horror Story,” and has recurred as Kit Walker in the second season as a man wrongly suspected of killing his wife, and played Kyle Spencer, a frat boy killed and brought back to life in the show’s third season, “Coven.” He next will be Quicksilver in “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” later this year.
Roberts has been playing Madison Montgomery this season on “American Horror Story,” and met Peters on the show. They’ve become an “item” and are engaged to be married.
Coffey still acts occasionally (he has a cameo in “Adult World,” as the bookstore owner) but has found creative juices on the side of the cameras. He earlier directed 2005’s acclaimed “Ellie Parker,” starring Naomi Watts, but also wrote the script and produced the film, and David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive,” also starring Watts. Among his other screen roles: “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “Shag” and “Lost Highway.”
Coffey earned his acting chops in local community theater stages like the Hawaii Performing Arts Company (now Manoa Valley Theatre). Because most of his family still resides in Hawaii, he frequently visits — though career options demand that he remains close to the Los Angeles hub.
“You can’t be too far away from work,” he says.
With “Adult World” wrapped, Coffey has embarked on a new project, “Chemical Pink,” based on a book by Katie Arnoldi, about a young female bodybuilder who arrives in Los Angeles to get her body into shape. “It’s a Pygmalion story gone wrong; she’s transformed into something she doesn’t want to be,” says Coffey of the character, Aurora Johnson, whose obsession for fitness finds her succumbing to a man sponsors her — with complex results. “So I’ve been going visiting workout women who are kinda interesting.”

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Director Scott Coffey, with actress Emma Roberts as Amy, amid bookshelves in "Adult World."

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