Having recently acquired a Los Angeles Public Library e-card, I immediately began watching not the Criterion Collection — with its plethora of film classics such as Rashomon, The 400 Blows, and other films I really should have seen by now — but the uneven but ultimately charming Almost Adults, a 2016 independent film funded through a Kickstarter campaign, released on VOD earlier this year, and currently on Netflix. Starring Elise Bauman (Carmilla) as Mackenzie, a recently out lesbian, and Natasha Negovanlis (also of Carmilla) as her straight best friend Cassie, Almost Adults also makes use of what seems to be an all-woman crew, something that shouldn’t be as remarkable as it is. Directed by Sarah Rotella in her feature debut, Almost Adults lists Adrianna DiLonardo (who’s collaborated with Rotella on shorter video projects) as its writer, and Rebecca Swift as its producer — not only are the major players women, but largely women who have yet to be established (or entrenched) in the Hollywood machine.
Almost Adults is a clear labor of love and prompts some genuine laugh-out-loud moments, even if the momentum disappears in the second half of the narrative. Bauman particularly shines as Mackenzie, whose coming-out journey is nothing like she expected it would be. Rude, a little thoughtless, and charismatic as hell, Mackenzie is notable for being a lesbian character who is not tragically in love with her straight best friend (which basically a cliche at this point). Instead, the story is entirely about Mackenzie and Cassie’s friendship during their senior year of college, and how Mackenzie’s new life post-coming-out affects the nuts and bolts of their friendship as they prepare to take their places in the adult world.
Cassie faces endless criticism from her frankly awful parents (Delfine Roussel and Neil Affleck), who insist that she is nothing without the boyfriend she just dumped, meaning that she seeks solace — and family — in Mackenzie. So when Cassie is the last person to know about Mackenzie coming out — and finds out second-hand, of all indignities — Cassie feels abandoned, worthless, and generally unappreciated. But Mackenzie is just trying to navigate the terrain of being an out lesbian, which is nothing like she expects. When Mackenzie comes out to her parents (Meredith Heinrich and Daryl Marks) in an early scene, for example, she’s taken aback by their unqualified acceptance (and is miffed that they already knew, having found a copy of The L Word under her bed). Having mentally prepared for a dramatic rejection (like the girls’ mutual friend Levi, played by Justin Gerhard, faced when he came out), Mackenzie takes some time to bemoan (in cringeworthy but amusing fashion) how disappointed she is in her parents. So when Cassie selfishly makes Mackenzie’s coming-out a referendum on their friendship, rather than accepting that Mackenzie has the right to come out in exactly the way she wants to, Mackenzie is put on the defensive.
Indeed, the rift between Cassie and Mackenzie only grows, as Mackenzie points out all of the ways she fits the stereotypical lesbian mold — poor fashion choices, choosing playing with Ken over Barbie in preschool, et cetera — and that Cassie really should have seen it coming if she weren’t so self-obsessed (which really says more about how Mackenzie might have some internalized homophobia than about Cassie not having adequate gay-dar). What began in the beginning of the movie as a soda- and bed-sharing friendship eventually results in Mackenzie moving out of their apartment, following what is admittedly a stiltedly-acted screaming match.
Since the movie is from 2016, there’s the inevitable use of technology as a plot point — particularly in a world with endless social media and dating apps — with mixed results. Levi, who is, despite some meta self-critique towards the end, basically the standard gay best friend, decides that he will help Mackenzie get a girlfriend, and signs her up for — of all things — a Tumblr account, which is basically presented in Almost Adults as a dating site combined with Pinterest. I’m not familiar with the lesbian Tumblr community, but I have a feeling that it’s not a cut-and-dry “find a girlfriend” use of the blogging app. Still, it’s a necessary — if strangely done — setup that allows Mackenzie to learn a valuable lesson about dating — and cheating — in the internet age.
When Mackenzie starts dating a girl at school (Winny Clarke, Murder U), she neglects to mention that she’s got a “Tumblr girlfriend,” even though said relationship isn’t sexual (or, indeed, an IRL one), which puts her real-life relationship in jeopardy. It’s a small plot point that, thankfully, isn’t turned into a “kids these days” lesson about how the internet is ruining our lives — it merely contributes to our understanding of Mackenzie’s general lack of awareness and tact. The way that texting and calling are incorporated into the visuals of Almost Adults is also well-done, allowing the story to demonstrate that Cassie and Mackenzie aren’t connecting like they used to with the image of smartphone screens and missed calls rather than extraneous dialogue.
Cassie’s story is, perhaps, less central to the narrative of Almost Adults, as her development takes place a little more on the fringes. While Mackenzie doesn’t have any worries about what she’s going to do after graduating, Cassie sticks to her five-year plan to the point of breakdown, having internalized her parents’ rigid and cold logic about success, which causes yet more friction between the friends. The boyfriend that Cassie dumped before the events of the film resurfaces looking to reconnect, although he’s barely given a name and is talked about more than he’s seen, making it unclear why Cassie ever liked him.
Unfortunately, Negovanlis isn’t quite as convincing an actor as Bauman, who waltzes away with our hearts despite her bad behavior, although Cassie’s eventual declarative separation sent in a few blunt text messages — from her parents once she gets a job is heartening. Mackenzie’s parents nearly steal the show the few times they pop up — Meredith Heinrich (Lady Psycho Killer) is outstanding as the kind of wannabe cool mom who thinks calling Google “the Google” is “hipster” and tells Mackenzie emphatically “if I could be gay, I would be” while Mackenzie’s father looks on fondly. The pair of them pretending to be horrified by Mackenzie coming out comes off as needlessly cruel, but since their immediate acceptance is what annoys Mackenzie more, we’re allowed to get right back enjoying their presence.
Ultimately, Almost Adults fits the definition of “fun little indie movie,” and, despite some hiccups in the quality and tone, is definitely worth watching with a friend (I assume; I watched it alone) on a rainy afternoon, especially if you watch it gratis via library card, as I did, or on-demand.
Top photo: Almost Adults
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