The idea of Adult Beginners is something that many of us can connect with on some attainable level, given that everyone has felt the ripple effects of a struggling economy in some way. Sure, it’s always enjoyable to hear about success, because positive stories inspire a bit of hope inside us struggling schmoes (albeit typically farfetched instances). But you know what? It’s equally important to know that we can fail and STILL find that same success. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and people have been suffering for centuries, yet society’s new Insta-culture of immediate gratification has ruined any concept of building from the ground up. People are hungrier than ever, and want their gold-plated shark tanks installed, like, three years ago – but that’s not always what life has in mind.
Nick Kroll plays Jake, a narcissistic entrepreneur who believes he’s got the next big tech product in a Google Glass ripoff dubbed “Minds i” – but fame and fortune aren’t in the cards just yet. After a Chinese manufacturer backs out at the last minute, the product launch sinks and he loses all of his and his investor’s money. Broke and globally hated, Jake decides to flee New York City and crash at his sister Justine’s (Rose Byrne) place for a few months, something that her husband Danny (Bobby Cannavale) has no problem with. Jake pays his dues by babysitting Justine’s son Teddy, which also gives him something to do besides eating froyo and languishing in his own defeat. But the moneyless, suburbia lifestyle begins to grow tiresome, and Jake looks elsewhere for work, but not before getting a little too involved in Justine and Bobby’s life. Can Jake truly start over, or will his own self-destruction bring everyone around him down as well?
As an analysis of parental life and the self-serving nature that now resides in us all, Adult Beginners is a success. Mothers and fathers will find themselves relating to Justine and Danny far-too-easily, whether the couple is shovelling pasta down their faces because meals can be interrupted at any moment, or if Danny has to drink a Coke just to stay awake so Justine can start a weighty conversation. Likewise, the lows will also resonate through hordes of burned out, drained individuals who gave up their lives to raise a child of their own.
This isn’t anything to be ashamed of, but children require more sweat, blood, and tears than parents might be ready for, and that endless devotion (which is carried out heroically) does manifest in ways that Ross Katz captures on screen. People aren’t infallible – we’re weak minds that can sometimes be easily influenced by our own, for lack of a better term, stupidity. But it’s not stupid. It’s a strive for happiness (those few free minutes spent in your car watching Channing Tatum movies while shovelling Whoppers in your mouth/seeking attention elsewhere).
As for Jake’s problem, the screenplay does come off as a little self-righteous at points, but there’s still truth in Nick Kroll’s performance. After neglecting his family for years, Jake looks to them for comfort in his greatest time of need – a showing of compassion we eventually learn he hasn’t been reciprocating. Kroll keeps repeating the same wishes over and over again, along the lines of “I need you to cheer me up,” which only showcases his selfish nature. Coming from the mouth of a known comedian, Kroll is able to flip his dramatic switch on for some tragic moments of personal anguish that do highlight the humanistic qualities that exist in Jake. Through the character of Jake, Katz proves how strong the bonds of family truly are, but only by using the well-known means of Kroll’s signature cynicism and sassy tongue.
Is Adult Beginners the next enlightening magnifying glass placed over the culture we’ve built? Well, it’s more a sentimental confidence booster that preaches the same “Everything will be OK” message we’ve heard time and time again, but a lovable cast and adorable child actors end up giving Katz’s humbling effort the benefit of the doubt. Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale are as effervescent as ever, oozing the charm of mushily-proud parents, and Kroll delivers the comedic chops we’ve come to know, but with a little more substance than normal. Sometimes we just need to be reminded that no matter what happens, everything is going to be alright. Adult Beginners is that reminder, and while it won’t rock the cinematic world like more powerful pieces, it’s an adequate journey that deserves its chance to touch a few wayward souls.
Adult Beginners benefits from a strong cast that showcases Nick Kroll's ability to blend cynicism and drama, despite working with a story that only offers a few new insights.