At the very start of Adult Beginners, Nick Kroll’s Jake is the kind of guy we all love to hate: tech soon-to-be-millionaire with a douchey product (sort of a poor man’s google glass), celebrating his millions of dollars in venture capital funding at a loft party filled with loose women, casual drugs and (of course) Joel McHale.
Then, predictably enough, the bubble bursts all over his smug face and he finds him self on a train back to his childhood home in New Jersey to stay with his sister (Rose Byrne), her contractor husband (Bobby Canavale), their little son and a baby on the way. As he is brown bagging something obviously inappropriate for whatever time of day the train is departing Manhattan, the conductor observes his seating choice warns him again “traveling backwards” since “it makes people nauseous” and Jake replies: “I don’t get nauseous”.
This not-so-subtle metaphor of going back on the train of life is a perfect example of what is the problem with Adult Beginners. It is a perfectly adequate movie, it features perfectly lovely people (more on that in a minute), the kind of people you remember loving in all sorts of other roles, but it never really quite takes the next step of going from adequate to legitimately good. Which may be okay in some other time and place but the last few years have brought us two movies this film will inevitably get compared to (Skeleton Twins, for the sibling reunion factor and Young Adult, for the misanthropic lead returning to his former haunts) and those comparisons will not be favorable.
The problem is, much like most problems with movies are, multi-fold. First off – the script just doesn’t gel. At the center of it all are real issues: love, loss, ambition (or lack thereof), family ties, trust and more, and each is treated with a half-baked visual or narrative tool: from the Adult swimming class Jake and his sister are avoiding to the very black-and-white approach of what success in the big city vs giving up on it all a mere 30 or so minutes outside of it is, you have a feeling there was a white board in the writer’s room filled with ideas, and they just tried to squeeze as many in as possible, making the movie seem almost episodical, a series of sketches, as opposed to one, cohesive, truly felt whole.
Secondly, the cast is almost criminally underused. Kroll, who is, it should be noted, one of BYT’s favorite funny people out there, is perfect when playing the character of a tech douchebag, a variation of any of his Kroll Show characters really, but the second he is required to keep things earnest, first director Russ Katz doesn’t quite know how to get him there. Rose Byrne and Bobby Canavale, who come from a stronger dramatic background, look (and feel) better in there roles, but the lead trip are done a disservice as a whole of essentially being in a cameo merry go-round. Which is the movie’s third major problem. Everyone from McHale to Josh Charles to Jane Krakowski to Jason Mantzoukas to Mike Birbiglia to whoever else (I imagine) this fine group of humans is friends with in real life makes an appearance, sticks around for a scene stealing minute or two and then gets the hell out.
It is great to see these faces on the big screen, but it is also hugely distracting from what should have, in essence, been a lovely, small, heartfelt movie about all of us.
Now, this is not to say that there are not truly enjoyable moments here, there are. But as a whole, it just never comes together.