Director : Ross Katz
Writers : Jeff Cox, Liz Flahive & Nick Kroll
Adult Beginners doesn't aim too high. But while that might sound like a negative, the relatively low stakes allow you to chuckle along without every really having to worry that anything too horrible was going to happen.
Nick Kroll plays Jake, a recently failed entrepreneur who has to move in with his sister Justine (Rose Byrne) brother in-law Danny (Bobby Cannavale in another blue collar role) and their young son, while the dust settles on his disastrous business deal.
Kroll plays it mostly straight, only dropping into his customary voices and funny faces as shorthand with his sister. He is the city fish out of water in the suburbs, and in this family no one knows how to swim. Most of the initial laughs come with his shock at the ridiculousness of parenthood and while Kroll isn’t your typical leading man, he plays a likeable part through the first act, even if he looks a bit "buggy" without his glasses on.
That type of self-awareness in the script is refreshing but it does make you wonder if they could have dug deeper. The dramatic infrastructure had been built, and with Byrne and Cannavale on hand they had the personnel, but maybe Kroll wasn’t quite up to mixing it with them. While it was touchingly subtle to have him wearing his dead mothers jumpers, he never displayed any of the emotion that was driving the behaviour. The one scene where he was about to was interrupted by another character, prompting a shift in gears back to light relief. But maybe that’s what they were going for here. Bad things happen , but life keeps moving forward anyway - it’s one day after another even when the next one seems a lot like the one before, and sometimes second hand knitwear just makes you feel better.
Despite the conflicts, betrayals and hints of unfulfilled potential, the characters were quick to tell us they weren’t depressed, but by the end of the film they weren’t so quick to answer if they were happy. While there may have been more here, it is an enjoyable watch. But if Nick Kroll wants to make the transition from small screen funny man to playing the lead in movies, just like his character in Adult Beginners, he's going to have to do more than just dip his toes in the water.