A bankrupt businessman tries to restore good relations with his sister and her family.A bankrupt businessman tries to restore good relations with his sister and her family.A bankrupt businessman tries to restore good relations with his sister and her family.
The stakes in Adult Beginners, though, are far too low. At not even ninety minutes, the film races past and forgets to have anything potentially threatening or contemplative happen. Even for this eclectic and minimalist genre, it's a shell of a film that has an idea, characters, and potential, though it forgets the lemon and lime to its custard.
The story concerns a hipster entrepreneur named Jake (Nick Kroll), who moves in with his estranged, pregnant sister Justine (Rose Byrne) following the failure of his company on the eve of its big launch. The company was said to usher in a whole new world of technological progress, but when a deal with the developer fell through during the celebration, millions of dollars from investors were lost and, in just twelve hours, Jake went from being a renowned innovator to a complete fraud. Justine lives with her husband Danny (Bobby Cannavale) and their three-year-old son in the suburbs, and, in an effort to rebound Jake on his feet, Justine and Danny pay Jake to babysit their son. As expected, this is easier said than done and Jake winds up struggling to keep up with their child. On top of that, Danny is harboring a secret, Justine is secretly depressed and desperate for some kind of social interaction and companionship, and Jake's narcissism is addressed all while the three souls search for some level of contentment in their routine lives.
This scenario isn't foreign to many mumblecore and contemporary independent films in America. Adult Beginners tackles familiar ideas of post-college disillusionment and the cruel realization of many narcissists (or general workaholics) that their ways of life have, in turn, paved a path for them that includes alienation from the ones they love, high stress-levels, recurring sadness, and a lack of free time to indulge in activities that were once top priority for them.
The problem is, with that sole paragraph, I developed the characters in this film more than director Ross Katz or writers Jeff Cox and Liz Flahive do. The film meanders on, with impossibly low stakes for the characters, drama that never gets serviced or fizzles before it can really develop, and, in turn, a film that finds itself plodding along in a manner that doesn't make it that funny on a comedic level or that investing on a dramatic level. Adult Beginners is keen with waiting for something happen to it rather than making something happen to the characters or their situations.
The performers here have proved themselves capable, and to be fair, they're not the reason this project is so mediocre. While Kroll executes the lacking charm of an egotist, Byrne does some of her best work here by simply being a likable and emotionally honest presence. She doesn't decorate her character in theatrics or impossibly unreal beauty where she looks glamorous going out to get her mail in the morning. She's an honest, overworked, and under-appreciated young mother, who leads a great marriage, though that's about it. Her likability and relatability is high here and she dazzles from her first moment on screen. Finally, there's Cannavale, another fun and charismatic presence in nearly everything he's done (particularly Danny Collins as of late), and his character's duality here - though contrived and a bit of a wrench in the story - is the most daring Adult Beginners is throughout its entire story.
As stated, this is like a main-course without any kind of flavorful zest or kick to make it come alive. At most, it's a completionist film for its genre and the Duplass brothers' productions. Where Adult Beginners could've explored the idea of unfit adults getting ready to own the title in their daily activities by raising kids, holding jobs, and assimilating to mainstream culture - as the story and the genre suggests - it settles for something lower than bare minimum, which is its existence.
Starring: Nick Kroll, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale, and Joel McHale. Directed by: Ross Katz.
- Aug 18, 2015