Almost Adults follows two best friends, Mackenzie and Cassidy, during their last years of college as they grow up and grow apart. Mackenzie comes out as a lesbian while Cassidy navigates her way to independence after ending a serious relationship with her boyfriend. Natasha Negovanlis and Elise Bauman of Carmilla fame star as the main characters, so naturally I had to watch it as soon as it came on Netflix.
I did like this movie. I thought it was funny and I enjoyed the story of two friends accepting that their lives are taking different paths because that’s real–that’s what happens in your last years of college. It’s nice to see Negovanlis’s humorous side since Carmilla is such a broody gay vampire, and her acting chemistry with Bauman is worth the watch in and of itself. Since they played lovers in Carmilla, it’s great to see them pull off best friends in this film.
But given that Almost Adults is about two college kids who are still immature in many ways, there are some aspects of the writing that miffed me or made me roll my eyes.
The film often uses people with disabilities as the butt of a joke, particularly those with mental disabilities. While it shows how ignorant, dense, and selfish the main characters are (especially Mackenzie), it comes across as crass whereas the intention seems to be humor. The same can be said for the possible transphobia in the story Mackenzie tells about her ex-boyfriend. On the surface, it’s intended to be a roast of his genitalia and nothing more (though it again points to Mackenzie’s childishness and is fitting for a character in a film called Almost Adults), but some of her language is easily coded as transphobic, particularly the whole “it was totally an innie; it was practically a vagina” thing.
There’s also the dig Mackenzie makes at herself for being pathetic because she’s a 22-year-old “virgin,” not only discounting the experiences she had with her ex, but also perpetuating the harmful notion that it’s pathetic to not be sexually experienced by your 20s. This attitude is rampant in queer media and in some queer communities, but I don’t think it does anyone any good. It only feeds people’s insecurities and makes sex a bigger deal than it has to be.
Levi, the stereotypical gay best friend, pressures Mackenzie to come out to Cassidy. Pressuring someone to come out is inappropriate as is shaming them for not coming out. There’s no timeline for this and no one says you have to come out to everyone all at once, which is what Levi seems to want for Mackenzie. At least Mackenzie later stands up to Cassidy for giving her the same bull.
Speaking of coming out, Mackenzie’s disappointment that her parents didn’t make a fuss over her being gay is a bit strange. Sometimes, it seems like she’s being sarcastic, but other times she seems genuinely disappointed that her parents are supportive, like she was mentally gearing up for a big a fight or a dramatic rejection. At least the audience gets cathartic relief from Levi rolling his eyes in the background. Mackenzie’s reaction is perhaps the most revealing of her character: she thrives on some level of tension or drama in her life, and perhaps she believes that her coming out isn’t legit unless she faces rejection from her parents, which is a pretty messed-up way to think, but it again points to her immaturity.
All of these moments of selfishness and immaturity, though, do fit with the point that Mackenzie and Cassidy are almost adults. Of course they’re still childish, selfish, and petty. They have to grow up and get used to their changing relationship.
This film holds up The L Word as its basis for what it “should” be like to be a queer woman given the numerous references to the show (many of which I thought were funny) to the actual plotting and characterization. Even though I enjoyed The L Word (a lot back when I watched it), I wish we could stop using it as the pinnacle on which all other wlw media is based. I get it–it’s a classic and it has its place in LGBTQ media history, but as a result it tends to become definitive for the way real queer women live their lives and what they can expect from relationships. One of the reasons why I enjoyed Carmilla so much was that it doesn’t have this air of “this is how you’re supposed to be a lesbian and this is what your relationships will be like.”
Speaking of Carmilla, the fact that I like Negovanlis and Bauman so much as actresses is one of the reasons why I enjoyed this movie as much as I did. They do have great acting chemistry and I’ll probably watch anything they’re cast for in the future because I’m interested in seeing the different roles they can play. While their characters in Almost Adults aren’t carbon copies of Laura and Carmilla, Mackenzie and Cassidy are pretty similar. Both Mackenzie and Laura have a dorky naivety to them, while Cassidy and Carmilla have this tendency to run away from things (Cass breaking up with Matthew because he proposed, Carmilla for centuries trying not to get attached to the girls her mother has her take). I really hope these ladies don’t get typecast.
So while Almost Adults does, in some senses, depart from typical queer narratives of dramatic coming out stories and equally dramatic relationships, focusing instead on a friendship story, it doesn’t do much to dispel some of the harmful rhetoric of the wider world. Even though I liked the movie and genuinely laughed out loud at many scenes, I think it perpetuates some notions that many wish would just go away.