ADULT BEGINNERS Review | TIFF 2014

     September 12, 2014

adult-beginners-review

Though the duo have nothing to do with the film beyond an executive producer credit, Adult Beginners definitely feels as though it falls within the brand of Mark and Jay Duplass.  It’s a humble little comedy about awkward adults struggling with that whole, “living in the world” thing that leaps from comedy to drama so frequently and smoothly that they start to feel like the same thing.  Ambitions aren’t particularly high.  It’s not a movie trying to change the world.  However, it is a warm, charming, and insightful little comedy with some wonderful central performances that’ll slap a smile on your face without insulting your intelligence.  That might not sound like much, but it’s also a surprisingly rare treat, so the movie is very much worthwhile. 

Nick Kroll stars as an entrepreneur with a series of professional failures to his name who is about to launch a Google-Glass style product out to the indifferent masses.  The film opens with him at a launch party as things go wildly wrong and his product ends up being dumped before release, leaving investors who shoved millions into the project with a big stinking failure on their hands.  Now homeless and coated with a thick stink of failure, Kroll ends up returning to his family home where his sister (Rose Byrne) now lives with her husband (Bobby Cannavale).  He begs to stay there while he tries to get back on his feet and though Byrne resists, Cannavale welcomes him in with open arms.  Soon Kroll is working as the nanny for his three year old nephew, awkwardly reuniting with old high school friends (specifically SNL’s Bobby Moynihan) and generally learning to like himself and life again.  Those self-affirming lessons slip into Byrne and Cannavale’s lives as well.  Yep, it’s one of those movies and a pretty good one.

Adult Beginners is the is the directorial debut of Ross Katz, who previously served as producer on films like Lost In Translation and In The Bedroom.  As a first feature, it’s an appropriately small effort to stretch his legs, yet one filled with more than enough warmth and humor to be a success.  It is essentially one of those comedies about adults behaving like children that seem to be overflowing out of theaters lately, but a good one that never stretches out of the realm of creditability.  It’s a very small and real story with bursts of comedy.  At the center of it all, Kroll gives a surprisingly grounded and heartfelt performance unlike anything that he’s done before.  Best known for his surreal comedic characterizations, it’s wonderful to seem him play small and real and succeed so fully without losing laughs in the process.  If nothing else, the film is a showcase for previously untapped talents in the star and director that should serve them well.

adult-beginners-nick-kroll-rose-byrne-bobby-cannavale

Yet as good as Kroll is, the best part of the movie just might be Rose Byrne.  She steals the movie away (much like she did in Neighbors last summer) in a rich, funny, and pained portrait of a woman who gave up her life to help her mother.  Byrne has been around for years and did good work in movies like Insidious and X-Men: First Class, but she didn’t start doing comedies until recently and seems like she may have only just found her comfort zone as an actress.  Bobby Cannavale essentially reprises his role from Blue Jasmine as a loving, yet decidedly imperfect partner and he too is excellent in the film and seems to have finally found the type of roles he was always meant to play.  Around the sidelines, Katz peppers in comedy ringers like Moynihan and Joel McHale who play purely silly comedic types to keep the dramatic thrust at the center from overwhelming the laughs. It’s a wise movie.  This movie so easily could have become overly sentimental, but Katz and co. keep always things in check.

The word best used to describe Adult Beginners is “cute.”  It’s a very heartfelt, sweet, funny, moving and deliberately small movie that does exactly what it’s supposed to do and then rolks credits before wearing out it’s welcome.  It’s not a profoundly original piece of work or a movie that ever tries to be profound in any way.  It’s a little wisp of a comedy with enough warm sentiments and observations about eccentrically neurotic adults to slip in a little emotional sting.  Expect too much and it might feel insubstantial, but take the movie in on its own terms (which again, the Duplass brothers’ stamp of approval helps define) and it’s damn near impossible to have a bad time giggling away the 90-minute runtime.

Grade: B-

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