Adult Beginners (2015)
Comedians hit a point in their career where they want to stop being silly and start getting real. Before anyone starts thinking of The Real World, please remember that these individuals are far less scripted in their deliveries than that thankfully departed 90s nostalgia. Before Amy Schumer’s success with Trainwreck last year, Nick Kroll, a fellow Comedy Central show holder, released his big screen breakout Adult Beginners.
Kroll takes lead duties as Jake, a self-indulgent manchild unable to handle the collapse of his poorly planned wearable tech venture. After being abandoned by his friends/investors, Jake decides to move back to his childhood home which is now inhabited by his older sister Justine (Rose Byrne), her husband Danny (Bobby Cannavale), and their son Teddy. Uncle Jake takes over manny duties for his young nephew while pregnant teacher sister and house refurbishing hubby handle the steady workload. The close quarters strain as family drama creeps in, both old and new.
Debut director Ross Katz, who produced Sophia Coppola’s and Todd Field’s early careers and who has since gone on to direct Nicholas Spark’s The Choice, finds himself with a toned down hand for a generally more zany cast from a script by Jeff Cox (Blades of Glory), Liz Flahive (Nurse Jackie), and star Nick Kroll. That mix of wacky, college boy humor with the darker, more intimate dramedy leads to a movie that is less funny and more dramatic. This is certainly not a failing of the movie, but the direction takes no original spin. These plot points have been handled before, but this is a fine start for a generally inexperienced crew.
Nick Kroll plays a less ridiculous version of his usual characters. Certainly not “The Douche” from Parks & Recreation, though I adore the secret intellectual side of that character, Kroll is a douchebag all the same. Jake believes that his issues were forced upon him and has become lost and indignant is his failings. Fortunately his family is comprised of more endearing screw ups. Pot smoking brother-in-law Bobby Cannavale stumbles through paranoid semi-happy marriage with endearing moments. The character is ultimately underwritten, placed in the background of the sibling reunion. Rose Byrne, as usual, pulls out a highlight performance as the pregnant teacher taking unlikely risks with this second expected child. Paranoid and flighty like her brother, Byrne excels at taking careful comedic steps beyond the material. Her most ridiculous actions are treated with a “what the fuck did I just do?” Incredulity appropriate for her adult mistakes.
The film is left not much more stable than it begins. There are ample unanswered questions that leaves one concerned about these Adult Beginners, which may be the ultimate strength of the movie. Though we find a tidy wrap up of the plot points at hand, you wonder if this current set of issues won’t arise again a month down the line. There are about to be multiple children in the fray, but none of these full grown adults have quite figured it out either. I’m intrigued with how much of my attention this movie has garnered with how generally apathetic I am with the general plot. Such uncertainties are too enticing to not latch onto.
2 out of 4 stars