Jena Malone is the titular character in M. Cahill’s feature film, a low-key little number based on a true story. Audrey is a young woman who, seemingly without aims or goals, drifts through her life in a fug. Romantic relationships are unsatisfactory, work stultifying, and she finds herself in a pretty miserable place after being let go from a call centre job. Even paying electricity bills is starting to become a struggle for her. But she’s made of pretty strong stuff and is determined not to get into a rut.
While scrolling through cute animal videos on YouTube late one night, she sees an advertisement for an adult adoption agency. So begins her process of trying to connect, to escape the tedium of her humdrum life by putting herself up for adoption – despite both of her parents still being alive.
Malone recently said in an interview with Screen Rant that she shared many similar traits with Audrey, certainly in terms of the lead character’s self-reliance: ‘I’m exactly like Audrey, I was born in the same generation where I feel like I could do anything if I watched a YouTube video, you know? I’ll build a tree house, I’ll paint the thing, I’ll do the stuff’.
A retired couple, easy-going Sunny (Emily Kuroda) and her husband Otto (Robert Hunger-Bühler) decide to take her on, to see how they work as a surrogate family unit, and an unlikely friendship is forged between Audrey and Otto. The contrast in personalities is a typical indie flick set-up: Audrey is the kind-of-charming young American lady often portrayed by a young Meg Ryan in the early nineties, or more recently, by Greta Gerwig. In contrast, Otto is a tightly -wound, German curmudgeon, who peppers his grumpy diatribes about everything from how steak should be cooked, to how immigrants celebrate the 4th of July, with an occasional growl of, ‘Mmmm’. Inevitably, Otto thaws to the young woman, despite the initial suspicion from family members and his general misanthropic disposition.
Malone and Hunger-Bühler give nice, naturalistic performances, and there is solid support, but the film feels a little slight – neither sharp enough as a comedy, nor dramatically consistent. There isn’t enough of a sense of Audrey’s relationship with her real parents, apart from some brief scenes, to provide a context for her familial discontent. It’s hard to emotionally invest in her plight without knowing her motivation for trying adult adoption. The tropes of indie cinema (the quirky behaviour of family members, small-town limitations) are on full display here.
It’s all likeable enough, gentle almost to the point of being soporific, and somewhat lightweight overall. The likes of Gerwig and Jim Jarmusch do this genre with much more wit and emotional resonance. But as a cosy Sunday afternoon TV film, it would hit the spot nicely.