Adult Beginners is a comedy with some heart and substance supporting it. We’re introduced right off to Jake (Kroll) as a billionaire creator/investor in high tech when his company goes bottoms up. He never saw it coming, and now has incensed investors all over him. A funny part of this comedy to me is that in his desperation he turns up at his sister’s house. (His mother is dead, and his father lives with a new wife in Arizona). Sister Justine (Byrne) couldn’t be more surprised when she answers the doorbell to her brother standing on the porch. It’s clear that years have gone by since he had made contact, and Justine is obviously ambivalent about allowing him to stay for three months. She is pregnant, has a three year-old, and a job on the line.
Justine is counting on her husband Danny (Cannavale) to oppose the idea, but he is a family man and says of course Jake must stay, and by the way, how about having him be their son’s nanny rather than sending Teddy to his preschool where he can get sick from the other kids licking the toys.
What follows is a picture of what many families experience nowadays—upheaval of all kinds, challenges that crop up by the day, misgivings, angst, and true caring. The reward for the audience, along with genuinely funny episodes, is seeing the characters adapt to changing circumstances. Fatherhood plays a big role here, with the fancy tech guy learning about and coming to appreciate family ties, and the father so caught up in his thriving business he delegates his responsibilities until a crisis brings him up short. But motherhood is a part of the mix as well, and Justine must let go of some of her childhood fears and rebellion and become a more protective adult with her children and her students at school.
Nick Kroll as the author of the story and the director of Adult Beginners clearly shows promise. In this film, his characters are well developed, the storyline is captivating, and there are threads of wisdom about relationships, marriage, families, and children that he has clearly thought about. I’m sure the screenwriters, Jeff Cox and Liz Flahive, deserve credit along with Kroll. There are plenty of one-liners that have soul as well as substance, e.g., “Ow! Don’t kiss me so it hurts!” But the whole story line is more than simply one joke after another. In addition to illustrating how adults can grow still further, it has a number of male bonding scenes that I think women could profit from seeing.
Byrne, Kroll, and Cannavale make a fine acting team; they play off one another like good musicians in an orchestra. They demonstrate here that, taking into account their previous work, they can ace a range of characters.
This is intelligent, thoughtful comedy.