Big sisters both rule and suck at the same time.
After his tech startup ultimately fails and not only puts him, as well as the many investors he was involved with, in debt, Jake (Nick Kroll) decides that it’s time to take a break on everything for awhile and retreat to the one place he can depend on: His childhood home. However, when he walls into to surprise his sister, Justine (Rose Byrne), of his visit, he realizes that maybe he’s only complicating things a bit more. For instance, Justine is a few weeks pregnant, having issues with money, with her work, and even with her husband (Bobby Cannavale). Jake sees this, but he doesn’t really care and just needs a place to stay for a few months or so, which he does, but at a price: Watch Justine’s youngest son, Teddy, each and every day while she and her husband are off at work. Jake isn’t too happy about this, but decides to do it and finds out that having any sort of responsibility is hard and takes a whole lot of effort. Not just from his part, but everybody else’s, too.
A few days ago, I reviewed the little-seen indie Alex of Venice, and while I appreciated the cast apart of it, I felt the plot and direction to be the same old tale of “someone trying to reinvent themselves and get their lives back on-track”. While there’s nothing wrong with telling these stories in the first place, as anybody will tell you, there are many instances in real life where people need to change things up, it’s just that, sometimes, these stories can get so conventional and middling that it doesn’t feel like anything is being taught or learned in the process. Mostly, it’s just a bunch of sad people, being sad, and at the end of the day, making themselves happy in some way, or fashion.
Once again, not saying that these stories don’t happen in real life, but I don’t really want to see an hour-and-a-half movie about it where I feel the wheels are turning, but that there’s no driver.
Adult Beginners is that type of movie. But instead of being a boring mess like Alex of Venice, Adult Beginners gets by because, for the most part, it’s funny, and it should be. It’s got some very funny people in it, doing and/or saying funny things, but also deals with real life, grown-up issues about maturity, gaining independence, and marriage. A lot of the same ground was covered in Venice, however here, because it’s given a slight comedic-switch to it all, the pill goes down a lot easier and isn’t as rough to swallow; in fact, there came a point where I wanted to see more of where these characters went and just how exactly they were going to get by whatever situation they were thrown into.
Director Ross Katz makes many nice decisions in not giving us, the audience, the easy answers, but it still works in giving the impression that we’re dealing with characters here. Even if a good majority of the time they spend talking, joking around, bitching, moaning and just walking around, there’s still something interesting to all of that here that worked and kept me engaged. Some of the subplots that come in and out don’t quite work, but rather than taking the movie down with their mediocrity, they just sort of feel like leftover strands that can be forgotten about.
Unlike in Venice where every subplot took away from the main story and made it feel longer than it should have been.
But another reason why this movie works as well as it does, given that it’s like so many other movies, is that it has a fine and charming cast to make the material come off a bit more weighty. Lately, we’ve seen the evolution of Rose Byrne, the charming and hilarious screen-presence that is more than willing to hang with the guys when it comes to delivering any sort of gag, and here, as Justine, there’s no exception to the rule. Byrne is funny, sweet, endearing, and challenging as Justine where she makes some bad decisions, as well as some definite good ones, but no matter what, she’s watchable beyond belief and reminded me a bit of my own big sister in the way that she carried herself from day-to-day activities and with her little bro.
Speaking of her little bro, Nick Kroll gets a chance to finally show the world that he may, or may not be capable of weighty, dramatic material, and the results are, well, uhm, fine. I guess. See, the thing with Kroll is that while he’s definitely fine with all of that snarky, obnoxious humor of his, when it comes down to creating a character and becoming this Jake guy, he leaves much to be desired. It isn’t that Kroll isn’t bad, but by the end of the movie, it sort of feels like we don’t really get this character, nor do we ever understand where the transition from him being a “prick” to a “nice dude” ever occurred, or how it happened. Kroll mostly gets by though because the company he keeps.
Which is to say that, yes, Bobby Cannavale is great here, too, but in a way, I found his subplot to be the most frustrating. Early on in the movie, there’s a slight hint at the fact that Cannavale’s character may be screwing around and while Jake’s character approaches this subject as well as a brother-in-law can do, the way it’s resolved left me wondering, “What happened between point-A and point-C?” See, we get a few scenes where words are exchanged and dicks are measured, but then, that’s pretty much it. Cannavale’s character is wonderful and honest, but the situation he’s thrown into never gets explained well enough to where it makes all the sense for him, or his character.
However, you win some, and you lose some. Whatever.
Consensus: Like many others of its kind, Adult Beginners is funny, heartfelt and benefits from solid performances from a cast who are all willing to make material seem a bit deeper.
7 / 10