One film that I was surprised that so many people were looking forward to at SXSW this year was Adult Beginners. It’s a film by director Ross Katz, whose best known as producer such indie darlings from the 2000’s like In the Bedroom, Lost in Translation, and a couple other films by Sofia Coppola. The film is produced by Mark and Jay Duplass, and stars Rose Byrne, Nick Kroll, and Bobby Cannavale, a trio of actors that I’ve come to adore in the past couple of years, particularly Byrne and Cannavale. This is Kroll’s first lead role in a film, after spending years doing stand-up and being regulars on shows like The League and Kroll Show (coincidentally, Mark Duplass co-stars with Kroll on The League). The audience for the film last night was huge, even though it was the second screening of the film at the festival (I later learned that the first time it screened was the same time as Trainwreck). I barely made it into the theater, sitting in the nosebleeds, but I can say that I saw Adult Beginners. Here’s the review.
Nick Kroll stars as Jake (hey!), an entrepreneur who loses all of his money and a bunch of people’s money by investing in a faulty piece of technology. He’s forced to move back home somewhere in New England to his parents’ house, which is now occupied by his sister, played by Byrne, and her husband, played by Cannavale. While living at home, Jake tries to take care of Byrne and Cannavale’s son while they work, and in between all of this Kroll tries to restructure his life and make everything better again (somehow).
This was obviously a passion project for Kroll, who gets a producer credit as well as a story-writing credit with the films writers, Jeff Cox and Liz Flahive, with Cox previously co-writing Blades of Glory and Flahive writing for Nurse Jackie. The film has a similar feel to the Duplass Brothers “comedies”, as it deals with a couple of 30-somethings trying to make it in the world. I put comedy in quotation because if you’ve seen their films, and their brilliant HBO series Togetherness, you’ll know that there are some comedic elements to the Duplass Brothers films, but they can be pretty hard to watch. This film is a little more comedic, and it does have some genuinely funny parts, but for the most part, Adult Beginners is kind of forgettable in terms of the script and story, which is a shame because all three of them are great in the film.
Rose Byrne continues to be one of the best actresses, comedic or dramatic, working today, and I always look forward to whatever project she tackles next. Cannavale is also really great in the film, and the chemistry that he has with Bryne is terrific, and they feel believable (the two are apparently together in real life, so that explains a little). Nick Kroll is very good in his lead feature film debut, and the role is a far cry from his brilliant comedic work on television and his stand-up. All three of the leads are great and have excellent chemistry together, but that’s about it when it comes to Adult Beginners. Other than that, there really isn’t a whole lot new or unique that this film offers, and the only way I could really recommend you seeing the film is if it’s on HBO on a Saturday afternoon and you’ve got nothing better to do that day.
There are a few silver linings however, with some fun but small performances by Joel McHale as Kroll’s coke-fiend buddy, and Jane Krakowski as a swimming instructor, whose really terrific given her little screen-time. But other than that, Adult Beginners is a forgettable film that isn’t bad or terrible. Just a nice little movie to pass the time if it’s on HBO or any premium format one day, that’s all.