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Ellie Moon stars as “Rosy” in director Karen Knox’s ADULT ADOPTION, a levelFILM release.
Credit : levelFILM

Ellie Moon in director Karen Knox’s Adult Adoption.Courtesy of levelFILM

  • Adult Adoption
  • Directed by Karen Knox
  • Written by Ellie Moon
  • Starring Ellie Moon, Rebecca Northan and Michael Healey
  • Classification N/A; 93 minutes
  • Opens in select theatres Jan. 14

Critic’s Pick

The moment you enter the world of Adult Adoption’s protagonist Rosy, it’s tempting to label the entire film as “quirky” – from the pastel-hued cinematography and thrift-store wardrobe to the electropop soundtrack and Rosy’s awkward mannerisms. But bolstered by a cast of Toronto theatre veterans, filmmaker Karen Knox’s directorial debut delivers a narrative that is more complex than twee. That’s in large part thanks to a clever screenplay by award-winning playwright Ellie Moon that keeps viewers guessing – by turns wincing or chuckling as Rosy tries to find her way.

Rosy, played by Moon, is a 25-year-old bank employee who aged out of the foster-care system and has since managed to carve out an adult life for herself – though the shiny stickers covering her laptop and cupboards full of Kraft Dinner suggest otherwise. It is clear something’s missing – her clingy interactions with her departing boss and desperate hookup with an online date underscore her intense loneliness.

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When a colleague suggests looking into adult adoption, Rosy signs up to a service online that connects her with prospective “parents,” like Brian (Michael Healey) and Jane (Rebecca Northan). But she quickly finds out that neither is what she wants or needs them to be.

Moon is in nearly every frame of the film, embodying Rosy’s needy inner child in a gangly adult body with a theatre actor’s physicality – even small gestures, like Rosy’s fumbling inability to open sugar packets, become imbued with meaning. With her penchant for self-destructive behaviour and socially inept interactions, Rosy isn’t exactly a likeable character, and yet Moon manages to portray her as a deeply human one.

Moon’s performance is strongest when she’s playing off other theatre mainstays including Healey and Northan. Where some of Rosy’s awkwardness feels a bit overdone in solo scenes, her encounters with the two people who she thought could give her the family she’s been missing are suffused with a wide-eyed hopefulness – until Brian’s interest becomes more than paternal, and there might be a reason why Jane is estranged from her own biological daughter. Healey’s nice-guy-turned-creepy-old-dude and Northan’s day-drinking teacher become more than mere caricatures in the hands of both actors.

Open this photo in gallery:
Chelsea Muirhead stars as “Nola” and Ellie Moon stars as “Rosy” in director Karen Knox’s ADULT ADOPTION, a levelFILM release.
Credit : levelFILM

Chelsea Muirhead and Moon in Adult Adoption.Courtesy of levelFILM

Finding the balance between eccentric and emotional can be tricky, and Moon’s narrative doesn’t always succeed at walking that fine line. For instance, a subplot involving Rosy’s friend from their former group home falling prey to a cult feels tacked on. But it’s clear both writer and director are having fun subverting rom-com conventions – with an emphasis on the comedy aspect. Moon’s script is full of unexpected deadpan exchanges: “Now is not a great time for me to have a boyfriend,” Rosy stammers to her one-night stand. “I’m going to have to agree with you on that,” he responds with a perfectly straight face.

Knox, herself an actor and writer (and creator/director of the CBC series Homeschooled), gives the actors space to unfurl their characters’ layered motivations, creating a dreamy but grounded mood. That approach is emphasized by J. Stephens’ hazy, muted cinematography that highlights the urban setting while echoing Rosy’s evolving feelings. Similarly, the soundtrack by indie-pop band Stars’ frontman Torquil Campbell plays with tone based on where we find Rosy in her journey: Early on, high-pitched hyperpop fills her headphones to boost her spirits, while toward the end of the film, the gorgeous Stars ballad The Very Thing plays as she finds some semblance of peace on a sunlit stroll, surrounded by flowering trees.

For all its quirks, at its heart Adult Adoption is a thoughtful coming-of-age story that will have you rooting for its complicated heroine. As Rosy’s self-pity gives way to self-awareness, she reminds us that sometimes the thing we’re looking for can be found deep within ourselves.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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