Adult Beginners, the directorial debut by producer Ross Katz, features an incredible cast of funny people from top to bottom. Nick Kroll, Rose Byrne, and Bobby Cannavale sit at the top of the list, but the supporting roles are filled by the likes of Joel McHale, Bobby Moynihan, Mike Birbiglia, Jane Krakowski, and Jason Mantzoukas. So this is undoubtedly a comedy from Katz, who is best known for producing emotional relationship dramas like Lost in Translation and In the Bedroom. Maybe it’s that experience looking at complicated human feelings with subtlety that separates Adult Beginners from every other indie dramedy about starting over.
Kroll, who came up with the story himself, is known for his caustic wit and sniveling persona seen on The Kroll Show and in The League. He brings much of that same personality here, but leaves enough room for a bit of humanity to slip through the cracks. He plays Jake, a potential entrepreneur with techy invention known as the Mind’s I. He’s poured every penny into this Google Glass rip-off, along with all of his friends’ money, but when the manufacturer can’t produce a key part he’s screwed. Having lost everything, including his gold-digger of a girlfriend (who was JUST making out with him), Jake retreats to his childhood home where his pregnant sister Justine (Byrne) lives with her husband Danny Cannavale) and young son, Teddy.
We’ve all been through really tough times and for many of us, certainly for me, home is where I want to go to forget about it. So we understand Jake’s need for the creature comforts the place he grew up can provide. However things aren’t quite that simple. Jake needs to earn his keep, and that means becoming Teddy’s nanny, a job he’s wildly unsuited for. Justine and Danny have their own problems, too, whether it is money, work pressures, and the threat of infidelity.
Many of these things may sound familiar, in particular the bond that comes to form between Jake and Teddy, but don’t go in thinking for a second this is some artificial nonsense like St. Vincent. We understand the depths of his self-loathing, and the simple pleasure he takes from eating frozen yogurt, smoking pot, and doing all the things he did when happy. It’s a way of figuring out who one truly wants to be. By the same token, Danny and Justine’s relationship has real texture, not just a series of sitcom parental issues. She’s been so distracted by work and motherhood that her husband has become lost in the mix, which has driven him to do things he would later come to regret. But the film’s real joy, and this is a credit to screenwriters Jeff Cox and Liz Flahive, is how these characters come to rely on one another and grow from their experience. When Jake first arrives he’s been estranged from the family for months, but as Justine reconnects with him the old childhood rhythms begin to emerge. The cozy look at sibling relationships will remind many of last year’s The Skeleton Twins, which like this was produced by the Duplass Brothers. They’ve got the market cornered on smart, funny Indies about messed-up family dynamics.
Adult Beginners‘ insights are a bit slight, and the ending is way too gooey, but there’s nothing wrong with a film that unabashedly says being a childish grown-up is perfectly okay sometimes.