In the world of DVDs and Blu-rays, so many films turn up seemingly out of nowhere. Adult Beginners, directed by Ross Katz, is one of these films. Out now on DVD and featuring a pretty decent cast – Rose Byrne and Vinyl’s Bobby Cannavale, for example – the film feels like one I should’ve heard of. But I had no idea what it was, where it came from, what it was about…It just turned up one day. Clueless, I gave it a go.
Adult Beginners tells a familiar and basic story. After his company crashes and burns on the eve of its big launch, disillusioned self-centred entrepreneur Jake (Nick Kroll) moves in with his estranged pregnant sister Justine (Rose Byrne) and her husband Danny (Bobby Cannavale, Byrne’s real husband). As he becomes a sort-of nanny to their three year-old child, he is faced with the pressure of real responsibility as he begins to realise the value of family and the virtue of humility. It’s a pretty standard tale of someone trying to rebuild their collapsed life with very little in it to make it stand out. In fact, nothing really happens at all. And I don’t mean that in the way that nothing really happens in any indie comedy like this, I mean nothing really happens. It simply slowly meanders its way to the finish line.
At the usual 90 minute length, Adult Beginners doesn’t outstay its welcome at all – but even in these 90 minutes, it struggles to find its feet. The characters and premise provide potential for a strong character study with a few laughs along the way, but everything is thrown onto the screen with little thought which creates a confused mess. The performances are perfectly adequate – stand-up comic Kroll brings his trademark deadpan cynicism to Jake, while Byrne and Cannavale bring just enough to make Justine and Danny decent watchable characters – made all the more believable by the fact the pair are married in real life. Community’s Joel McHale shows up in another forgettable performance while Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s Jane Krakowski does her thing in a brief appearance. I can’t believe I’m saying this in the third review this week but Bobby Moynihan is in this film, and he’s excellent. I love this guy. He needs a leading role soon.
But writing this review is a struggle because Adult Beginners is just such an empty film. Anything good about it has been done far better before. For example, the premise of a cynical and misanthropic man being shown the error of his ways through love and family – it’s basically a staple of the drama genre now. Look at films like St. Vincent and About a Boy – the first of which is far superior to Adult Beginners. And I’m sure any of you could easily write a list of films about people whose lives fall apart, for them to spend the next 90 minutes putting them back together. Add in a family dynamic – ie. moving in with a sibling or parents – and hey, this film has been done a thousand times before. The film clearly cannot decide on a genre either, with the film sitting stubbornly on the fence between comedy and drama and making the film something of a tonal disaster. It just hovers in genre purgatory with no idea where to go. The DVD cover quotes a review that states the film is “a bonafide comedy” and “hilarious”, while mentioning it stars “Rose Byrne from Bad Neighbours 1&2”. It is clear that this film’s marketing team is trying to sell Adult Beginners to comedy fans but this is just false advertising. It’s not really funny, nor is it at all moving, tense or dramatic. It just ambles along in a cinematic void.
To quote the famous meme; “the struggle is real”. The struggle here being trying to review a film that is just so uneventful with so little going for it. There’s nothing hugely bad about Adult Beginners, I’m not angry at it or disappointed because I didn’t know what to expect. I’m just underwhelmed to the point of being indifferent, with nothing else to say about it.
Adult Beginners is just...nothing. I’ve already forgotten it. 2/5.
Adult Beginners at CeX
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