Lessons in Being an Adult in ‘Mr. Roosevelt’

Noelle Wells as Emily in Mr Roosevelt. Emily sits cross-legged on a bed, looking down with a frown on her face.

Images courtesy of Paladin

There are plenty of films that portray adulthood in their own way, presenting true growth in a person along with the difficulties along the way. But, perhaps, no film has captured this as perfectly as Mr. Roosevelt (2017), which is written, directed by and stars Noël Wells. She manages to not only tell a story about her character but that of a generation, somehow capturing those feelings and experiences on-screen. 

Emily (Wells), is a struggling comedian living in Los Angeles, sitting through insufferable improv shows and an evening at the bar with fellow comedians choking on their ambitions. The normality of her life is interrupted as her ex-boyfriend Eric (Nick Thune), delivers the news that she might want to return to Austin, as her cat, named Mr. Roosevelt, is on his last legs. This soon escalates into Emily suddenly having to stay with her ex-boyfriend in the newly redecorated home where they used to live together, now inhabited by his new girlfriend, Celeste (Britt Lower). As Emily mourns the loss of her cat and attempts to recalibrate what she imagined Eric’s life was like, naturally with the help of an excessive amount of Facebooking, she must come to grips with her own narrative. Sure, she’s got a bunch of views on her YouTube videos, but is she as “famous” as strangers and old friends in her hometown declare her to be? 

So she sits around brunch tables as Celeste and her friends, a group of people who excel at pretending inwardly and outwardly that they have their lives figured out, rant on about the negative effects of gluten, and Emily stuffs her face with as much bread as the restaurant has to offer. And that’s why this movie nails millennials so well: because both of those types, the gluten friends and foes, are exactly what being a young adult is about right now. Emily is the kind of woman whose short-term plan is to figure out how to accept the death of her cat, her ex’s too perfect new girlfriend, the fact that she doesn’t have enough money to go back to LA, and that she has no game plan whatsoever if and when she does make it back there. As far as a long-term plan? Doesn’t exist for her. The insecurities, the brokenness, the unknown, the freedom, the over-talking, the Instagramming, the wistfulness, the hopefulness, the very moderate YouTube fame, the self-involvedness, the avoidance, the mimosas, the improv, the supportive friends, the random hookups, the lack of growing up, the dreadful knowledge and simultaneous denial that you are and should be grown up: it’s all part of the millennial experience. I know, I’m sounding all emotional, but again, just gotta blame it on my birth year.

Noelle Wells as Emily in Mr Roosevelt. Emily stands in a crowd of faceless others, all holding up mimosas in a toast.

Despite the fact that Wells totally pulls off the shorts over tights look (a lifelong goal of mine), and knows how to widen her big brown eyes to convey her character’s emotions, it feels disrespectful to refer to Emily as simply “quirky.” We’re past that. She can be a cool and complex woman without having to put that label on her, and don’t you dare offer up “adorkable” either. She’s purely relatable, and even when we don’t agree with her choices, we don’t pity them, because that would be pitying ourselves. But where Mr. Roosevelt might offer even more insight into the millennial experience of today, is the fact that this isn’t your standard rom-com. There’s not a boy meets girl situation going on here. In fact, the focus is not on modern dating because quite frankly, the Bumbles and Tinders of the world would drag down the more meaningful message at play here: falling in love with yourself and figuring out what matters in life, with just a little help from your friends.The friendship that Emily develops with waitress Jen (an excellent Danielle Pineda) serves as the most dynamic and fun relationship of the film. The new friends she makes along the way, begrudgingly and otherwise, all help her on her own path of self-discovery and acceptance — you know, the relationship that matters most. And also, the hardest one to figure out these days, considering we’re trying to wrap our minds around who we are physically, emotionally, and in the unchartered territory of digitally. Although Bumble and Tinder don’t help anything there either. But topless sunbathing and house parties definitely do.

This new crop of modern rom-coms proves that as (millennial) viewers, we don’t need to know that she gets the guy. It’s still nice, but not necessary. We (and Emily) just need to know that she’ll be ok. This comes in the form of friendships and profound moments and even just a teeny tiny bit of growing up — and usually all of that mixed together, while remaining funny and engaging and reassuring throughout. It’s the magic recipe for millennial life today, and what Mr. Roosevelt has cooked up here is a masterpiece.

by Charlotte J

Charlotte J is a culture writer and former cinema manager. A lover of coming of age ventures and twisted thrillers, her favourite films include Lady Bird, Back to the Future, Easy A and Get Out. You can find her on Twitter @charlonfilm

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