The Adults – Can we still play?

The Apostle Paul wrote, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways” (1 Cor. 13:11, NRSV). I’ve always seen that statement as simultaneously wise and foolish. Certainly, maturity requires setting aside “childish ways”, but we also need some childishness to be happy and healthy. I think Dustin Guy Defa’s The Adults is an examination of the ways adulthood and childhood coexist within us—or should.

The story focuses on three siblings. Eric (Michael Cera) has returned to his hometown for a few days. He has come to see a friend’s new baby. It is also a chance for him to reconnect with is sisters, Rachel (Hannah Gross) and Maggie (Sophia Lillis). But rather than stay in the family home, Eric stays in a hotel. He puts off meeting with his sisters as long as possible. He’s much more interested in playing poker with old friends. As a family, they have grown apart, even though in the past they were among the most important people in each other’s lives.

The three siblings are all quite different. Eric is emotionally distant. We get the sense that he really doesn’t want to be here. We may perceive that he really is alone in the world. He doesn’t seem to have anything calling him to return to his other world. Poker seems to be the one bit of play (childishness) in his life. Rachel is more settled in this situation (she now lives in the family home). But she also seems bitter and angry with Eric. Maggie, the youngest, embodies the idea of childishness. She tries to get the three connected through invoking their childhood pattern of play—funny voices and songs.

Much of the film is about our need to play (something many consider childish). For Eric, poker is the one form of playing that he allows himself. He’s good at it, but it is also very serious for him. It’s not about money for him, it is about winning. If he gets the chance to mock or embarrass an opponent, that is an extra. Rachel has no room for play in her life. She seems the most “grown up” of the three, but also the one who is most unhappy. Maggie is constantly at play. She seems to intuit that the three of them can never really connect unless they find the children they were together.

The film asks us to consider if being “adult” means we have to cut ourselves off from the things (and people) of childhood that bring joy. Certainly, the responsibilities of adulthood means that we may have less time to embrace the childish things of life. But I think that it’s important that we balance that quotation from Paul with one from Jesus: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3, NRSV).

The Adults is in select theaters.

Photos courtesy of Variance Films

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