There’s been a trend in independent movies for the last however-long that if you have a sort of sweet drama that isn’t quite a comedy but could be funny in places, you should hire a cast full of comedians and people known for timing. And if you’re trying to get said dramedy seen by people, you should hire actors who are big in the comedy scene but haven’t had opportunities to flex dramatic chops, because oh gosh, who would hire a comedian to be in a drama? Th-th-th-those are completely different genres! Recently we’ve had a few really good examples of when it works, with things like The Skeleton Twins and Obvious Child; the new South By Southwest premiere film Adult Beginners is unfortunately not on that already muted echelon, despite strong performances from the cast.
There for awhile, every comedy, indie or otherwise, was about people, usually men but not always, stuck in a prolonged adolescence and realizing they have to grow up; now we’re getting movies where the people who had prolonged adolescences have been successful for awhile and THEN hit a wall and realize they have to grow up. It’s different. Like those people in general, stories about them are beginning to wear thin. It’s this weird “woe is me, my life didn’t turn out the way I thought” attitude that’s so prevalent in culture at large that is the starting point in these movies, and even though they almost unilaterally tell us that behavior is bad in these movies, we still have to spend a whole movie with people acting like that.
Adult Beginners stars Nick Kroll, who also produced and wrote the story, as Jake, one of these typical d-bags, who is about to set the tech world on fire with the launch of a new thing everyone’s going to want. Unfortunately, something cataclysmic happens in the zero hour, the stock tanks before it launches, and Jake is left penniless and friendless. He decides to go to the suburbs to stay with his sister (Rose Byrne) whom he hasn’t seen in a little while and her husband (Bobby Cannavale). The couple have a little boy and another kid on the way. With Jake sitting at home not doing anything, his sister decides to allow him to be the nanny for their son, through which he begins to learn responsibility and the importance of family.
The movie hits basically every beat from The Book of Indie Plots, including infidelity, trouble at work, cool mentors, possibly being late to a thing, having to choose between career and family, letting go of the past, saying super mean things you don’t mean just for the sake of conflict, and resolution. There isn’t a single thing in the movie story-wise we haven’t seen before. Everything is pulled off well and it hangs together the way it should, but there’s really nothing remarkable going on.
And yet, it’s due to the cast that I can’t write the movie off entirely. Kroll proves he certainly does have the ability to carry a storyline and not have to be the comedy sidekick; Byrne once again turns in great work in a role that’s clearly got more interesting things than we get to see totally; Cannavale never goes amiss in films, even if he’s playing a variation of his blue-collar everyman that he seems to do so often. The chemistry between these three is really lovely and it’s when director Ross Katz allows them to just exist together that the movie starts to pick up a bit. There are also very small supporting roles for Joel McHale, Jane Krakowski, Mike Birbiglia, Bobby Moynihan, and Jason Mantzoukas, though they’re all playing the bigger, quirkier personalities that offset the main action. In truth, they’re barely in it.
A movie worth checking out for the performances, but certainly not for anything else, unfortunately.