ISO adults who adult
November 3, 2016 10:58 AM   Subscribe

I love a good exploding superhero cartoon as much as the next nerd, but this election really has me missing people who act like grownups. Can you recommend recent film or TV dramas in the vein of A Most Wanted Man, Spotlight, or Show Me a Hero that depict realistic characters who act like adults and do their jobs without a lot of fuss? Parameters and

This is tough to describe: tightly-paced, compelling stories, efficiently and quietly told. The above are good examples of what I'm interested in, but it might be easier to describe what I'm NOT looking for:

1. No cartoonish villains or heroes.
2. No characters who look like adults but moon about in an adolescent haze (a la Noah Baumbach and many other directors).
3. No sensationalized sex or trauma in an attempt to make the film more dramatically serious.
4. No deep, existential angst or prolonged emotional journeys.
5. No heavy stylization (training montages, ultra-grim realism).

Just normal adults (or as close as you can get on film) quietly getting crap done. True stories and positive endings are optional, but tidy Hollywood "against all odds" endings aren't so interesting. Non-American content is most welcome.

Even better if the main cast includes women and/or POC who get things done.

Note: Apologies if I missed a similar question; this has been difficult to search for because the terms "adult" and "film" generate predictable results.
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide to Media & Arts (29 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Call the Midwife
posted by phunniemee at 11:02 AM on November 3, 2016 [11 favorites]

Best answer: The Martian is filled with professionals who act professionally to get a big job done. There are women and POC astronauts, including the a female commander of a spacecraft and a dude played by Donald Glover who figures out something important. The main protagonist is indeed whiter then Matt Damon, but he's pretty cool.
posted by bondcliff at 11:04 AM on November 3, 2016 [11 favorites]

Best answer: I can't believe I'm about to say this but save for the giant monster, the new Godzilla movie Shin Godzilla/Godzilla Resurgence has exactly what you are looking for. About 80% of the movie is mildly-satirized Japanese civil servants banding together to save Tokyo from a catastrophe. It is in many ways a direct homage to the original Gojira/Godzilla film, which was an analogue of the Hiroshima bombing, except Shin Godzilla reflects the Fukushima disaster and the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
posted by griphus at 11:12 AM on November 3, 2016 [8 favorites]

Best answer: The first series of Happy Valley fits your bill. Yorkshire woman cop dealing with domestic violence at work and at home. (Second series has a rather cartoonish villain IMO that turned me off, but you may not share my opinion.) It strikes a nice balance between the brooding Scandi-noir shows that linger on long shots of landscapes and extreme close-ups of eyelashes and something completely procedural like The Bill.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:14 AM on November 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

searching for "grown up film" seemed to give decent results - three articles at the end of the first page of results.
posted by amtho at 11:21 AM on November 3, 2016

Best answer: Friday Night Lights! Skip Season 2 entirely.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:21 AM on November 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You could try Madame Secretary. It's about competent people attempting to get things done. Even the antagonists in the piece (Russel) are competent if annoying to the main character. Designated Survivor seems to be heading in the same direction.
posted by sardonyx at 11:36 AM on November 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

A couple of quick thoughts:

The Lives of Others?


Gus Van Sant movies?

Nicole Holofcener movies? (though that may get too close to the "dazed teen"/Baumbach category).

I'll keep thinking.
posted by AwkwardPause at 11:45 AM on November 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Borgen might fit the bill.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 11:47 AM on November 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The West Wing.
posted by D.Billy at 11:58 AM on November 3, 2016 [7 favorites]

Best answer: In Elementary, while Sherlock is occasionally a moody "teenager," Joan Watson is both a woman and a person of color who behaves like a very competent adult and gets plenty of shit done. Also she is played by Lucy Liu, who is a total joy to watch.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:11 PM on November 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Your description immediately reminded me of Philomena, in which Judi Dench enlists the help of journalist Steve Coogan in finding the son who was separated from her by ... but I'll say no more.
posted by Flexagon at 12:18 PM on November 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you can find a copy of the new Shin Godzilla to watch you will adore it! I was so impressed with this film after the 2014 American movie, and the qualities you seek are exactly why this new one is so great. It was the perfect recipe and completely enjoyable.
posted by jbenben at 12:29 PM on November 3, 2016

Best answer: The West Wing and Friday Night Lights are both excellent suggestions.

"Ultra-grim realism" might disqualify it, but The Wire is really just about people doing their jobs. It's especially interesting because some of the people are doing jobs that are not often portrayed as businesslike, e.g. Stringer Bell. Lester Freamon and desk-bound Prez are other good characters.

The first few seasons of Mad Men might work. There's some weird stuff (and it gets weirder in later seasons), but the early office scenes are good. Peggy and Joan are definitely "women who get things done".

I've never seen it, but Jiro Dreams of Sushi sounds like it would fit your criteria.

If you like Spotlight, All the President's Men might be worth watching.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:29 PM on November 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: This may be absurd, but I think that's what I love about The Great British Bake Off - it's just a bunch of people who are good at something doing it a lot. And sometimes they screw up, but they're usually pretty mature about it and very supportive of each other. I like that everyone behaves well, and is rewarded for behaving well.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 12:41 PM on November 3, 2016 [12 favorites]

This is the second time I've recommended it but Mascots, the new Christopher Guest movie is excellent.

I love, love love the relationship between the two sisters (Parker Posey and Susan Yeagley) and also the British guy / his wife / his father. It's so realistic and loving and mature. It's also HILARIOUS!
posted by pintapicasso at 12:44 PM on November 3, 2016

If you can get your hands on the BBC documentary 24 Hours in A&E (A&E = U.S. ER), it's full of ordinary hospital staff working hard at a very difficult job. The stories aren't wildly sentimentalized, but they're often moving.
posted by praemunire at 2:46 PM on November 3, 2016

Best answer: It's not out until next week, but having seen it - Arrival is something you'll appreciate. Points in the "woman getting shit done without fuss" side of your question.
posted by naju at 3:13 PM on November 3, 2016

Broadchurch. I watch a lot of crime/ mystery series, and this show is by far one of the seemingly most realistic depictions of the emotions one might imagine are felt by those directly or tangentially involved in the murder case of a victim*.

*I left out the nature of the victim in case... spoiler.

Also, I know you didn't ask this, but Serial fits the bill in the realm of podcasts.
posted by Everydayville at 3:28 PM on November 3, 2016

Movies with women getting things done call up better biopics of Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher, and Frida Kahlo. Agora is on my to-watch list. Nova is not fiction, and totally has a lot of adults getting things done, especially scientists, and talking about their work, and can often be streamed through the pbs site if your locally programming syncs poorly with your interests or screen time.
posted by childofTethys at 4:15 PM on November 3, 2016

If the idea of The Great British Bake Off scratches this itch then you are going to love The Great British Sewing Bee.

It's basically the same premise except with sewing machines. Just phenomenally understated, talented people from all walks of life who all become friends and cry when someone has to go home every week.
posted by citands at 1:36 AM on November 4, 2016

It's classic so you may have thought of it, but the first thing I thought of is All the President's Men. It's very similar to Spotlight in a lot of ways. Shattered Glass was a little more dramatic, but there was a lot of the work behind unraveling the situation.

I also thought of the Pelican Brief. There's drama and chase scenes and explosions, but what I remember most about it is the professionals solving problems.
posted by gideonfrog at 4:03 AM on November 4, 2016

While it was definitely a "bang! pow!" kind of show, I do remember being very impressed by Agent Carter with regards to pretty much every character being somewhere between competent and exceptional at their respective jobs (with the exception of the guy whose whole deal was that he was good at FAKING competence and because he was a good looking white guy, he was able to coast on that privilege).
posted by helloimjennsco at 6:20 AM on November 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Soderburgh's Contagion seems like it might be a cartoonish disease outbreak movie, but it's much more just about adults being good at their jobs and figuring things out than most of its ilk.

I've also been watching a lot of movies about unions lately, and some of those might fit the bill. For example, Norma Rae is just a compelling story about a normal person getting a big scary thing done. There is a focus on her emotional journey, but also a lot of focus on the day to day work of organizing a labor union.
posted by LeeLanded at 6:30 AM on November 4, 2016

Better Call Saul's titular character has some, um, issues, but character Kim Wexler is a kick-ass attorney and she is often shown putting her head down and taking care of business. It's exceptionally well-written and acted.

I'll also throw this out, even though it's old: Columbo.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:33 AM on November 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Unit One begins with Charlotte Fich's character being promoted to chief detective of a mobile investigation unit. Many of the challenges she's shown mastering are of the personal, non-glamorous variety. The Protectors is again a dramatic series, in which Cecilie Stenspil's character gets things done without fuss.
posted by wonton endangerment at 11:13 AM on November 4, 2016

And sometimes they screw up, but they're usually pretty mature about it and very supportive of each other. I like that everyone behaves well, and is rewarded for behaving well.

This just reminded me of my favorite ever competition reality show: Face Off.

If you're looking for stuff outside of the fictionalized drama genre, Face Off is excellent.
posted by phunniemee at 11:48 AM on November 4, 2016

Response by poster: Thank you all, these are fantastic suggestions!
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 11:56 AM on November 4, 2016

Best answer: I thought of this question because I am watching The Fall right now. It's on Netflix, with Gillian Anderson as a detective tracking a serial killer. I've appreciated past episodes for feeling—despite a lot of twists and turns—like it did a good job of showing how the police go about their work. Anderson's character is surrounded by other competent cops who contribute to the hunt. Right now, I'm watching an extended scene taking place in an emergency department where a staff of doctors and nurses is going calmly and efficiently about the business of dealing with a couple of very bad injuries. No slamming through doors at top speed, nobody barking, "Let's move, people!" just a calm evaluation, assignment of tasks, and people doing their jobs. The show is full of stuff like this.
posted by Orlop at 6:51 PM on November 6, 2016

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