You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Adult Beginners’

Rose Byrne and Nick Kroll play a sibling duo navigating their shared and respective crises in this warmly appealing dramedy.

Rose Byrne, Nick Kroll, Bobby Cannavale, Mike Birbiglia, Josh Charles, Jeffrey DeMunn, Caitlin Fitzgerald, Paula Garces, Jane Krakowski, Jason Mantzoukas, Joel McHale, Bobby Moynihan, Caleb Paddock, Matthew Paddock, Sarah Steele, Celia Weston, Julie White.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3318750/

Career setbacks, marital woes, the bonds of family and the challenges of child rearing make for familiar but sturdy entertainment in “Adult Beginners,” a warmly appealing dramedy about two grown-up siblings who reconnect at an uneasy moment in their lives. Boasting the relationship-movie smarts and low-budget polish typical of the Duplass Brothers’ work (they’re credited as exec producers), this sophomore directing effort for Ross Katz (“Taking Chance”) resolves itself a bit too tidily in the final stretch, but sustains affection most of the way with its well-observed moments and gently offbeat comic rhythms. Although the pic should serve as a handy feature-length introduction to the talents of TV actor-comedian Nick Kroll, its most bankable element is easily Rose Byrne, whose post-“Neighbors” profile should give “Beginners” a bit of a head start in commercial release via Radius-TWC.

We first meet Manhattan entrepreneur Jake (Nick Kroll) doing a commercial to promote a hot new form of wearable technology — a business venture that has crashed and burned by the end of the opening credits, costing him millions of dollars in investment coin and almost all his friends. Completely broke, devoid of connections or prospects, Jake decides there’s no better time to get out of the city and pay a long-overdue visit to his older sister, Justine (Byrne), who lives out in the suburbs with her husband, Danny (Bobby Cannavale), and their 3-year-old son, Teddy (played by Caleb and Matthew Paddock). Big sis, who’s busy with work and expecting a second child, isn’t exactly thrilled to see her brother at first — a reaction that may well be shared by the audience, given how openly needy, inconsiderate and self-absorbed Jake seems as he settles in for a period of indefinite hibernation.

But Justine and Danny see the upside of the situation when they realize Jake can watch Teddy during his copious free time, lightening their stress load for a mere $300 per week. And before long, in keeping with the cinematic laws of redemption through childcare, Jake’s hapless early attempts to look after Teddy — rolling him around a park using a suitcase rather than a stroller, getting distracted while the boy falls and hurts himself on the playground — shift into a genuinely loving, attentive uncle-nephew rapport. Naturally, Jake’s presence will also expose some of the cracks and fissues in Justine and Danny’s marriage, while the siblings will be forced to assess the damage they’ve done to each other, and to reaffirm the fragility and resilience of their bond.

To the credit of the husband-and-wife writing duo of Jeff Cox (“Blades of Glory”) and Liz Flahive (TV’s “Nurse Jackie”), collaborating for the first time, these fairly predictable developments emerge in generally unforced and gently amusing fashion. The abruptness of the setup aside, everything that happens seems to do so at the casual, unhurried pace of everyday life, and the scribes have a nice way of teasing out the nuances in their characters’ sometimes prickly yet mostly well-meaning interactions, enhanced by the actors’ ability to suggest a sense of shared history. Although working in an entirely different vein from that of “Taking Chance,” his sobering HBO telepic about a soldier’s journey home from Iraq, Katz shows a similar level of tact and precision even in this faster, funnier register, allowing his actors to go quiet and dig deeper beneath each layer of laughs.

Kroll, with his slanted, full-lipped smile and eyebrows that suggest oft-raised quote marks, has one of those wonderfully elastic, smushable faces that can turn from maddening to endearing on a dime, and he soon becomes an ingratiating presence despite those trying early reels. Whininess gives way to deadpan, never more caustic than when the urbane, cultured Jake (who uses the theme from “The Shining” as his cell-phone ringtone) comes face to face with the sort of dull hometown hanger-on he’d hoped never to run into again. As the more stable, put-together of the two sibs, Byrne is acting in a more subdued straight-woman register than she did in “Bridesmaids” and “Neighbors”; both actress and character provide a reassuring presence for the viewer to latch onto, even when Justine’s own world begins to unravel.

Garces is winning as an attractive fellow nanny whom Jake begins sleeping with under the pretext of arranging a kids’ playdate, a development that winks playfully and somewhat frighteningly at the possible existence of underground babysitter sex rings everywhere. In the role of a far-from-perfect family man, Cannavale proves as likable and big-hearted as ever; the subtleties of Danny’s relationship with Jake are particularly well drawn, suggesting equal measures of rivalry and camaraderie. Their habit of retreating to the garage to smoke a joint becomes a charming motif throughout, cementing the brotherly bond while neatly summing up the desire to flee from grown-up responsibility that provides “Adult Beginners” with its key theme.

It’s the sort of casual hangout vibe that feels so lived-in, it’s a shame when the film begins to devolve into the sort of rigged reconciliations and easy epiphanies it had largely avoided, up to a point. Old resentments are duly dredged up; awful mistakes are too quickly swept under the rug; lessons about the difficulty of choosing family over career (smoothly delivered via Josh Charles as a neighbor who offers Jake a possible career opportunity) are indelicately hammered home. A key subplot in which Jake and Justine take mommy-and-me swimming lessons with Teddy, forcing them to confront their own latent aquaphobia, explains the film’s title, but feels too patly symbolic by half. Still, those imperfections are forgivable, even fitting, for a modest, well-assembled charmer that represents a welcome branching out for most of the key talents involved.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Adult Beginners'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Discovery), Sept. 9, 2014. Running time: 92 MIN.

Production: A Radius-TWC release of a Duplass Brothers Prods., Burn Later Prods. and Through Films presentation in association with Good at Bizness. Produced by Sam Slater, Paul Bernon, Marcus Cox, Karrie Cox, Nick Kroll, Jared Ian Goldman. Executive producers, Mark Duplass, Jay Duplass, David Bernon.

Crew: Directed by Ross Katz. Screenplay, Jeff Cox, Liz Flahive. Camera (Technicolor), Vanja Cernjul; editor, Paul Frank; music, Marcelo Zarvos; music supervisor, Marguerite Phillips; production designer, Ola Maslik; set decorator, Amanda Bennett; costume designer, Alex Bovaird; sound, Anton Gold; supervising sound editor, Warren Shaw; re-recording mixer, Martin Czembor; visual effects, Jeremy Cox; visual effects producer, Charlotte Raffi; line producer, Stephen Lippross; assistant director, Scott Lazar.

With: Rose Byrne, Nick Kroll, Bobby Cannavale, Mike Birbiglia, Josh Charles, Jeffrey DeMunn, Caitlin Fitzgerald, Paula Garces, Jane Krakowski, Jason Mantzoukas, Joel McHale, Bobby Moynihan, Caleb Paddock, Matthew Paddock, Sarah Steele, Celia Weston, Julie White.

More Film

  • Bruce Springsteen arrives for the New

    Bruce Springsteen Returns to NJ Hometown for Surprise 'Western Stars' Introduction

    Bruce Springsteen returned to his hometown of Freehold, New Jersey to offer a surprise introduction to the first public multiplex viewing of his concert/documentary film, “Western Stars.” Dressed simply in a brown jacket, Springsteen took a moment to say a few words at the AMC Freehold 14 movie theater on Saturday night. “We knew we [...]

  • Backstage in Puglia del film SPACCAPIETRE:

    'Gomorrah' Star Salvatore Esposito Set For De Serio Twins' 'The Stonebreaker'

    Salvatore Esposito, the Italian star who plays young mob boss Genny Savastano in Italy’s hit TV series “Gomorrah,” will soon be hitting the big screen toplining upcoming drama “The Stonebreaker” by twin directorial duo Gianluca and Massimiliano De Serio, who are known internationally for “Seven Acts of Mercy.” The De Serio twins are now in post on “Stonebreaker” [...]

  • Angelina Jolie is Maleficent in Disney’s

    Box Office: 'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' Tops 'Joker,' 'Zombieland'

    “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” is on track to give Disney another first place finish after scoring $12.5 million in Friday’s domestic ticket sales. If estimates hold, the Angelina Jolie-led film should finish the weekend with about $38 million — well below earlier forecasts but enough to top holdover “Joker” and fellow newcomer “Zombieland: Double Tap.” [...]

  • Maelle Arnaud

    Lumière Chief Programmer Maelle Arnaud: 'Film History Doesn't Have Parity'

    LYON, France   — As the Lumière Institute’s head programmer since 2001, Maelle Arnaud helped launched the Lumière Festival in 2009 and has watched it grow in international esteem over the decade that followed. This year, the festival ran 190 films across 424 screenings in theaters all over town. The festival will come to a [...]

  • Girl with Green Eyes

    Talking Pictures TV: Bringing the Past Back to Life in the U.K.

    LYON, France – Since its launch in 2015, Talking Pictures TV has become the fastest-growing independent channel in the U.K. with a growing library of British film and TV titles that span five decades, according to founder Noel Cronin. Noel Cronin attended the Lumière Festival’s International Classic Film Market (MIFC) in Lyon, France, where he [...]

  • Wings of Desire

    German Heritage Sector Applauds Increased Digitization, Preservation Funding

    LYON, France  — Germany’s film heritage sector is celebrating a new federal and state-funded initiative launching in January that will provide €10 million ($11.15 million) a year towards the digitization and preservation of feature films. Rainer Rother, the artistic director of the Deutsche Kinemathek, outlined the plan at a panel discussion at the Lumière Festival’s [...]

  • 'QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight'

    Film Review: 'QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight'

    In one of the intermittent revealing moments in “QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight,” a documentary about the films of Quentin Tarantino that’s like a familiar but tasty sundae for Quentin fans, we see Tarantino on the set of “Pulp Fiction,” shooting the iconic dance contest at Jack Rabbit Slim’s. As John Travolta and Uma [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content