Film Review – Adult Beginners
Fresh off of his three season stint on the uproariously funny Kroll Show, Nick Kroll takes a decidedly subdued turn as the sarcastic (natch) Jake in Ross Katz‘s Adult Beginners. Too subdued, you ask? I’d confirm but the notes I took devolved into a long series of “z”s…
Okay okay, perhaps that’s a little harsh. With a roster of comedic actors as talented as Katz was able to assemble here, you’re bound to hit upon the occasional laugh line or two, but the punchlines are often so muted you’ll quickly begin to wonder what the hell is on the cutting-room floor. One could argue it’s more drama than comedy. If that’s the case, though, we’re misfiring on all cylinders.
The movie begins with Jake (Kroll) failing spectacularly as an entrepreneur for a big time Apple-like company in Manhattan. The details of his shoddy salesmanship are unclear. We just know he owes a lot of people a lot of money he doesn’t have. Don’t worry, though. Once he ships off to hide out in the suburbs with his sister Justine (Rose Byrne), the debt thread is promptly forgotten. Jake feels he’s entitled to infiltrate the lives of Justine and husband Danny (Bobby Cannavale) and does his best to sell them on this by moping around and insulting their lifestyle. Inexplicably, they agree in exchange for his nanny services of their 3 year old son. Cue the initial hesitance and eventual embrace.
I really didn’t intend to come down so hard on the flick as its heart is very clearly in the right place. It just feels like a squandered opportunity for all involved. (Save Joel McHale, seeming strangely well cast as a coke-addicted prick). And certain scenes do demonstrate a flicker of what could have been. Take Jake and Danny’s relationship, for instance. Until this plot thread becomes unnecessarily bogged down with misplaced resentment, their scenes are by far the highlight. Danny relishes the opportunity to shoot the shit with a guy his own age and their camaraderie is infectious. Byrne, unfortunately, is saddled with the role of high strung mother and sister. We’ve seen her comedic chops in Bridesmaids and Neighbors (to name only a few) so it feels like such a waste to see her scowl and sigh her way through most of the film’s running time.
Oh, there’s also a romantic subplot involving Jake and fellow nanny Blanca (Harold & Kumar‘s Paula Garcés) that ends up being rather pointed and touching. If only Katz and screenwriters Jeff Cox (Blades of Glory) and Liz Flahive (Nurse Jackie) narrowed their focus in on the clear chemistry there and with Cannavale rather than depending on a cavalcade of cameos to do the heavy-lifting. Listen, I love me some Jason Mantzoukas and Mike Birbiglia, but even the most talented of improvisers benefit from an outline, no matter how broad.
I admire Nick Kroll for putting aside the wigs and accents, however briefly. He’s a great talent and will no doubt prove it to us again. This is not the pudding for that proof.
Also, be sure to check out our interview with actor/co-writer/producer Nick Kroll.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSDKkMS78H0&w=560&h=315]