Published May 08, 2015Some may find it hard to stomach a semi-serious film from the guy who popularized characters like Bobby Bottleservice and The Douche, but those people would be missing out. Adult Beginners, the first (somewhat) dramatic turn from The League alum Nick Kroll, is a charming, albeit pretty by the books dramedy that finds the Kroll Show mastermind stretching his wings, gaining a new audience and (hopefully) more appreciation from his fans in the process.
Adult Beginners starts off as the story of Jake, a wannabe tech visionary who creates an intelligent form of eyewear that supposedly rivals Google Glass, but ends up going bust after a manufacturing issue. Jakes loses all his money, as well as the money of thousands of others, and, like a lot of people in this day and age, finds himself returning to his childhood home, which is now in the care of his older sister Justine (Rose Byrne) and her husband Danny (Bobby Cannavale). A shell of his former self, yet still self-absorbed, Jake is faced with a decision: become a babysitter for Justine and Danny's three-year-old son in return for room and board, or live on the streets.
Thus begins a silly, heartfelt story about family dynamics. Shenanigans definitely ensue, but there's also some subject matter that deals with more serious fare, like coping with the death of a loved one, infidelity, trying to act young when you feel old and the proper ways to smoke pot without your wife finding out. It's the kind of normal, matter of fact dramatic devices that mumblecore originators the Duplass brothers (who helped produce this film) do so well, and it works, for the most part.
Byrne works well as a level-headed but extremely damaged mother looking for more drama in her life, liberally drinking during pregnancy and helping navigate teenagers' futures as a high school guidance councillor, even though her life seems emotionally messed up beyond repair. Those contrasts work well, even if there's little nuance to them. Cannavale, as husband Danny, is equally engaging, playing his role like a sort of buffoonish teddy bear you can't help but like, even when he's cheating on his wife.
Then there's Kroll, the ultimate focal point of the film. As per-usual, Kroll is hilarious, making you wonder why he's mostly been relegated to television when he's got the quick wit and charm to tackle bigger productions, and that's kind of the problem. Even though Jake is a total asshole, Kroll is almost too likeable as the film's main character. His true personality shines through even when he's crying on camera or acting like a total shit, which is good for longtime fans of his work, but not so great for someone trying to be taken a bit more seriously as an actor and writer.
Adult Beginners has been billed in the media as Kroll's first big feature, his baby, but it's important to note he didn't direct the film (that's Ross Katz, making his silver screen directorial debut after years as a producer), and that although Kroll came up with the story, he didn't write the full screenplay (that distinction goes to Nurse Jackie writer Liz Flahive and Blades of Glory's Jeff Cox). There are multiple people and pieces working together to make this a good, but not great, movie. This isn't a pure vanity project; Kroll was smart enough to look for outside help, even if one feels he might have done alright himself.
Adult Beginners is a fine watch, but what makes it really exciting is wondering what kind of movie Kroll will make once he goes fully alone.