Adult Beginners (2014) Film Review, a movie directed Ross Katz, starring Nick Kroll, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale, Joel McHale, Matthew Paddock, Caleb Paddock, Caitlin FitzGerald, Paula Garcés, Josh Charles, Jane Krakowski, Bobby Moynihan, Mike Birbiglia, Jason Mantzoukas, and David Bernon.
At first glance, “Adult Beginners” has the makings of the perfect dramedy. It has an all-star cast with great cameos and a witty script. At best, it is a quirky rendition of “Big Daddy.” The difference is that the relationship between Jake (played by Nick Kroll) and his nephew Teddy is not developed nor is it emphasized. The film centers around Jake, an entrepreneur who loses everything- his job, his girlfriend, and his credibility. He moves in with his estranged sister Justine (played by Rose Byrn), where he takes on the role of uncle-nanny, bonding with his brother-in-law Danny (played by Bobby Cannavale ), and meeting some other one-dimensional characters along the way. The motif of rebirth and new beginnings (Hence, “Adult Beginner”) is a pattern that is well documented among the central male characters in the film. Both Jake and Danny receive second chances where they need it most. This opportunity of redemption is arguably undeserved. The lack of chemistry between the characters, in addition to the lack of character development, makes this clichéd happy ending underwhelming and unfulfilling.
It is nearly impossible for an audience to care about the outcome of a character’s situation when they are not connected to or invested in the characters themselves. The acting in “Adult Beginners” does not do the script justice. Nick Kroll makes a shaky transition from the world of television to the world of cinema. A naturally talented and hilarious comedy actor, Kroll lacks finesse and believability in “Adult Beginners.” It feels as though he is reciting lines and acting instead of simply being the character. Even Ben Stein with his monotone voice and stoic demeanor could have achieved a more heart-felt performance.
It is difficult to empathize with the characters when they lack so much depth. This is not to say that they were unlikeable. Rather, they were not developed enough for me to feel connected to or invested in them. Each of the characters has their own struggle and internalized issues. (To avoid Spoilers do not read ahead.) Justine struggles to forgive her brother Jake for being unreliable and selfish when he neglected his famililial obligation to stay by her side during their mother’s illness. Jake feels depressed and hopeless as he adjusts to losing his job and reputation. Danny deals with guilt and remorse for his infidelity.
All of the dynamics between characters are superficial , weak ones. Jake’s bond with Danny is a bromance that fades once Jake loses respect Danny’s infidelity to Justine. Jake’s “relationship” with Blanca (played by Paula Garcés) is built upon physical attraction and lust. The tension between Jake and Justine is lightly skimmed, though it could have been developed much further. Jake’s bond with Teddy, which is intended to be pivotal to his personal growth, is merely glossed over. Likewise, the relationship and chemistry between Justine and her husband Danny is non- existent. Taken separately, these are decent actors, but as a whole, they do not work well together in this film.
What bothers me most is that Jake and Danny did not earn their second chance. Rather, it was handed to them. To be worthy of a second chance you must genuinely strive to become a better person. Remorse is not an adequate guarantor of redemption. To simply feel regret but not seek forgiveness or atone for wrongdoing and subsequently be handed another chance is not as rewarding to the audience as witnessing a character actively work towards a goal to improve.
This movie had a lot of potential, but it did not deliver. It certainly had its moments—I both chuckled and teared up during a couple scenes—but these instances were few and far between. Though it was not terrible or unbearable, it was a mediocre movie and a waste of talent. “Adult Beginners” does not captivate your interest for long enough. I could only recommend seeing this on cable while multitasking. Save yourself the $15 because you will be much more satisfied with “Big Daddy.”
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