Dustin Guy Defa Talks The Adults
One of the great conundrums of life is making sense of who we are versus who we used to be. The Adults, the new film from Writer/Director Dustin Guy Defa, explores this theme as it relates to relationships between siblings, though it could also easily apply to contrasting between being a filmmaker in Hollywood and being a video store clerk in Salt Lake City.
A Utah native, the director of Bad Fever and Person to Person, worked at the Movie Buffs location near Trolley Square in the ’90s, and it was here that his passion for unique and innovative cinema started to emerge. “We had this international section,” Defas says.“I remember that I saw the cover of The Seventh Seal, and I was like ‘Whoa, what is that?’” That experience began a deep dive into the filmography of Ingmar Berman, which led Defa to the Tower video store. It was the Tower, along with the Broadway Centre Cinemas, that acted as a portal, introducing the aspiring artist to the art house scene and shaping the kinds of films that he knew he wanted to make.
“I’m assuming—I don’t want to say everyone, but a lot of people—had those things when they were kids: they did voices, sang songs, had those sort of childhood worlds.”
The latest of these films is The Adults, which stars Michael Cera (Arrested Development), Hannah Gross (The Mountain, Joker) and Sophia Lillis (It, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves) as three siblings: Eric, Rachel and Maggie, respectively. When Eric returns home for a short visit, he finds himself torn between the opportunity to connect with his sisters and his desire to finally prove himself with his old poker buddies. As Eric’s stay becomes extended, he finds it difficult not to butt heads with Rachel, who has little patience for the image Eric has tried to cultivate for his grown-up self. While Maggie finds solace in trying to recreate the whimsical world the trio once shared, Eric and Rachel must reconcile their childhood selves with the adult people they have become.
Defa and Cera had worked together previously on the 2017 feature Person to Person, becoming fast friends, and the role of Eric in The Adults was written especially for Cera. “I was writing a whole bunch of other things, but I kept thinking, ‘I just want to make a movie with Michael,’” Defa says. The Scott Pilgrim vs. the World star came on board as the lead and a producer. While the initial impetus came in writing a vehicle for Cera, the project soon took on a more personal tone for Defa. He says, “The emotional core for me became thinking about my sister and that relationship, and the impossibility—or near impossibility—of us ever being that close again as when we were kids.” From there, Gross, a longtime Defa collaborator, joined the cast. “Sophia came in much later,” Defa says, adding that the much-sought-after young actress was the only person he ever approached for the role of Maggie. “Sometimes you reach out to people, and you never hear from them again or you wait for months,” he says. “I try very hard not to get myself in that position because I can’t handle it.” Lillis didn’t leave him hanging and quickly committed to the project. Defa had found The Adults.
“I remember that I saw the cover of The Seventh Seal, and I was like ‘Whoa, what is that?”
One of the most intriguing aspects of the film is the portrayal of the rituals that have bound the three siblings from childhood, from creating skits and songs to communicating in goofy character voices. The question that Defa grappled with was whether these things needed to be carefully introduced to the audience through pointed exposition or whether to simply trust in the universal nature of this dynamic. “I’m assuming—I don’t want to say everyone, but a lot of people—had those things when they were kids: they did voices, sang songs, had those sort of childhood worlds,” Defa says, “and I was sort of taking a leap, saying, ‘I hope people understand that this world existed.’”
As The Adults begins a limited theatrical release on August 18, Defa is also celebrating the bulk of his filmography finding a home on his favorite streaming service, The Criterion Channel. One might say that adulthood is going pretty well for Dustin Guy Defa, though every now and again, he’s still drawn to the past. Whether it’s his first memory of life—seeing Pete’s Dragon at the old Arcade Theatre—watching filmmakers gather in Park City and dreaming of joining them one day, or priceless childhood memories with his beloved sister, Defa still welcomes a bit of his youth wandering into his grown up world.
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