Review: Adult Adoption is a quirky, poignant look at loneliness

Stage artists Ellie Moon, Michael Healey, Rebecca Northan and Leah Doz star in Karen Knox's intriguing film about a Gen Z woman looking for parental guidance

Review: Adult Adoption is a quirky, poignant look at loneliness
Writer Ellie Moon plays a woman looking for parental figures. Courtesy of levelFILM

ADULT ADOPTION directed by Karen Knox, written by Ellie Moon, starring Moon, Rebecca Northan, Leah Doz, Michael Healey, Craig Lauzon and Donald MacLean Jr. A levelFILM release. 90 minutes. Opens January 14 at 6:30 pm at the Revue Cinema (400 Roncesvalles); also screens January 15 at 4 pm and January 19 at 7 pm. Rating: ✭✭✭

I've been wanting to watch Adult Adoption since it debuted at the Glasgow Film Fest in the spring of 2022 and generated some nice buzz. It played a couple more festivals, and was picked up by levelFILM for distribution. And now the film's getting a limited release at the Revue this week.

It's definitely worth checking out, especially for Toronto theatregoers, who will get to play spot the theatre artist throughout.

Playwright and actor Ellie Moon (Asking For It, What I Call Her), who wrote the script, plays Rosy, a mid-20s bank employee who hasn't quite grown up. She wears powder pink over-ear headphones and a child-like puffy coat, exhibits a nervous habit when ripping open sugar packets at her neighbourhood café and has decorated both her office and apartment with colourful stickers that might seem more appropriate for a tween. There's a dreamy, faraway look in her eyes, and her reactions to things are just a beat off.

When Rosy's office mentor (Jennifer Wigmore) retires, she suddenly feels bereft and lost. Soon afterwards she hears from Nola (Chelsea Muirhead), a friend from her foster home days, who's transferring money somewhere in a transaction that seems suspicious.

Because she's obviously lonely, her more ambitious, pro-active co-worker Helen (Leah Doz), who hilariously tries to articulate her ideas about the foster system at one point, suggests she look up a website called Adult Adoption. And soon Rosy is searching the site and meeting up with some substitute parent figures who have their own issues – and motivations.

There's Brian (playwright/actor Michael Healey), a seemingly benign, charmingly self-effacing middle-aged guy. And there's Jane (Rebecca Northan, Second City alum and ace improviser), an outgoing high school teacher who's currently estranged from her own 20-something daughter. Rosy feels a special connection with her.

From the top, first-time director Karen Knox has a little difficulty establishing a consistent tone for the film and its unusual central character. Rosy is intentionally passive, a little bit quirky and hard to read, so it's difficult to know if she understands exactly what she's getting into with these parent-child "dates."

But gradually the film gets at something deep and profound about urban alienation and the difficulty of forging genuine connections. One of the most touching scenes finds Jane brushing Rosy's hair. This is a movie that will make you think about the significance of seemingly banal activities like this, and being "tucked in" as a child.

And there's a clever, knowing acknowledgement of men's actions in this era of consent and responsibility. Brian's awkward, roundabout approach to a difficult proposition is fascinating to watch, as is Donald MacLean Jr's gently comic turn as a sensitive guy Rosy's age who wants to know he's not taking advantage of her in the bedroom.

Moon grows more comfortable throughout the film, especially near the climax, when Rosy, suddenly active and protective, sees the oh-so-human limitations of the idealized figures around her and begins to see her own Gen Z life with more clarity.

Cinematographer J. Stevens captures Toronto with a hazy, mysterious glow, with just one moment that seems needlessly self-conscious. And Torquil Campbell's moody score provides a fitting soundtrack to Rosy's adventures. There's a lovely use of Campbell's band Stars' song "The Very Thing" that comes at a pivotal, poignant moment in Rosy's life and our understanding of her.

✅ = Critic's pick / ✭ or ✭✭ = didn't work for me / ✭✭✭ = recommended / ✭✭✭✭ = excellent / ✭✭✭✭✭ = outstanding, among best of the year