M. Cahill’s Adopting Audrey is a sweet film anchored by two impressive performances, even it if ultimately feels a little lacking in depth.
When a film opens with a subtitle proclaiming that a “surprising amount of what follows is true”, then one might expect it to shock audiences or depict something outrageous. But M. Cahill’s Adopting Audrey does neither, and is instead a gentle film about unexpected connections and finding your place in the world. It isn’t fantastical, nor does it offer anything particularly surprising from a narrative standpoint to warrant such a subtitle, but it does centre itself around two very impressive performances and tell a poignant story.
Audrey (Jena Malone) is a bit all over the place: unceremoniously dumped, all but fired from her seventh job in two years and dangerously close to being evicted from her apartment that has no power. And yet she’s surprisingly upbeat, spending her evenings charging her phone via a neighbour’s outdoor socket and falling down a YouTube rabbit hole curled up in bed. When she stumbles upon a video about adult adoption, Audrey decides a new mum and dad are exactly what she needs to sort herself out, despite her own still being very much alive (if a tad emotionally distant). After a round of speed ‘meet-the-parenting’, Sunny (Emily Kuroda) introduces her to her husband Otto (Robert Hunger-Bühler), whose retirement has brought along some regrets about how he raised his own children, and the pair soon form an unlikely but surprisingly beneficial bond.
The camaraderie between Otto and Audrey is as endearing as it is awkward, giving the film a rich authenticity. Audrey’s easy-going but not naïve, while Otto is precise and a little overbearing. Audrey’s a keen worker but pretty flighty, and Otto’s dedication to his career came at the expense of a relationship with his own children. It’s an unconventional pairing, but an affecting one. They balance each other out. Audrey is the type of person who’ll watch a tutorial on building a treehouse and immediately buy a tool kit, whereas Otto will burn steaks to a crisp at the risk of the meat being the slightest bit undercooked. His ‘objective interest’ in her life slowly morphs into genuine care, and his no-nonsense, standoffishness soon thaws out into a reluctant but obvious affection.
It’s a dethawing that Hunger-Bühler portrays really affectingly, but the star of the show here is Malone. She gives a really layered performance, adding deceptive subtlety to the way Audrey emotionally progresses throughout the film and building to the poignant moment where she finally allows a little of the pain hiding behind her peppy exterior shine through. It’s quiet and understated, but emotionally resonant. Audrey’s nature is born of loneliness, of nights spend curled alone with nothing but the cold expanse of the internet for company, and Malone embodies Audrey with enough resilience and heart that it’s really easy to root for her to get her sh*t together and find contentment.
Adopting Audrey is a sweet film, but it isn’t flawless. Cahill is content to end the film rather abruptly and avoids much character development outside of Audrey and Otto. And even they don’t feel as explored as one might have liked. It feels like the film is aiming to be a ‘slice of life’, to glimpse inside the already established lives of these characters and then hop back out and leave them to it. But instead it feels a little unfinished, teetering on the edge of being a bit messy.
Adopting Audrey had its UK Premiere at the 2023 Glasgow Film Festival on March 2, 2022. Read our reviews from the Glasgow Film Festival!