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‘Adult Beginners’ can’t deliver laughs or on its premise

‘Adult Beginners’ can’t deliver laughs or on its premise


Adult Beginners
Written by Jeff Cox and Liz Flahive (story by Nick Kroll)
Directed by Ross Katz
U.S., 2015

Narcissistic entrepreneur Jake (Nick Kroll) has the world thoroughly in his grasp; his company’s next product launch is in days and he can smell the proverbial success everywhere around him. Jake fancies himself the next Steve Jobs-type king of industry, but the truth is he offers very little in the way of skill, expertise or even human decency. If this were an Oliver Stone film Jake would cash in despite his undeserved arrogance, but this isn’t one of those movies. This is an indie dramedy. Much to his dismay, the launch crashes spectacularly and his professional life is over. With his entire life in total disarray, Jake decides to retreats to his childhood home and move in with his estranged sister (Rose Byrne) and her family in the ‘burbs.

Justine and her husband Danny (Bobby Cannavale) are expecting their second child which means Jake’s timing couldn’t possibly be worse. He can’t offer much in the way of employment to his hosts, so he takes on the role as “manny” to their three-year-old son. As Jake adjusts to his new role as pariah, he also learns the value of humility by struggling through the daily tasks of taking care of his nephew. Kudos to Nick Kroll for trying to move out of his comfort zone, but perhaps a different project would have suited those needs better than something “going for the feels.” Dramedy is a hard balance to maintain, at best it can feel uneven, and at worst, it’s maudlin. Casting Nick Kroll as a snide dick is spot-on, but as that edge gradually wears away, Jake’s reformation feels less than genuine. It could be because Mr. Kroll literally played “The Douche” on Parks and Recreations and his stand-up act frequently features abrasive characters, or it could be that the softening of Jake feels like it’s required rather than earned.


All of that would be acceptable if the ratio of laughs to predictable plot points were more forgiving, but Adult Beginners provides less comedy than assumed from a film with so many funny actors. There has been a lot of comedy mined out of the stranger in a strange land premise over the years, but Jake playing the fish-out-of-water rarely yields any memorable laughs. More frustrating is that each progressive scene goes exactly as expected, leaving little reason to sit through Adult Beginners‘ 90 minute running time. This isn’t to say that Adult Beginners is particularly bad, it’s just another indie that attempts to define growing up and being an adult in a landscape full of them. Also problematic is that the very similar Skeleton Twins was released last year and did a far better job at tackling the themes of arrested development and family.

Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale, who aren’t given much to do, wrestle with their marriage in a subplot and conduct themselves nicely. Unfortunately, the cavalcade of supporting players aren’t as lucky. Bit characters played by the very funny Jane Krakowski, Jason Mantzoukas and Joel McHale barely register in their time onscreen playing off the main cast. Joel McHale is featured the most, but he’s still only a thinly veiled version of pre-transformation Jeff Winger on Community. With so much talent left unfulfilled and a premise seen many times before, all that we’re left with is a movie that likely won’t stay with audiences past the credits. Normally I love recommending an indie to moviegoers before the summer movie season starts, but this time consider waiting for the bonanza of releases in May that are sure to blow up box-office records soon.