A popular basic-cable performer on The League and Kroll Show for the past half-dozen years, Nick Kroll can be forgiven for arriving a little late to the movies’ post-recession flop-com genre. His brash NYC tech maven Jake watches as a planned product launch goes down in flames, losing all his and his investors’ money, then retreats—a broken man, ashamed, tail between legs—to his childhood home in New Rochelle. Never mind that most millennials are now cycling in the other direction during our current tech boom; Adult Beginners lags behind the times in more ways than one. (Kroll supplied the premise for the movie, directed by Ross Katz, with screenplay by Jeff Cox and Liz Flahive.) The Skeleton Twins recently offered sibling melodrama in such a return-to-the-nest scenario (also sans parents), while This Is Where I Leave You put a more entertaining, multigenerational spin on the same material. (Happy Christmas, starring Anna Kendrick, at least made the prodigal fuck-up a woman.)
Kroll’s basic task here is fairly lazy and certainly unoriginal: Make Jake just enough of a selfish asshole to need redemption, then redeem by the proven means of cute children and family values. Does Jake truly need to change in this familiar story template, or show any final evidence of change? Not really. The script is contrived to add skimpy notions of growth to his character: reconciling with his married suburban sister (Rose Byrne, no damage to her career), forgiving his doofus brother-in-law (Bobby Cannavale, coasting more than he should), and bonding with their icky-sweet 3-year-old son (cue the poop jokes, please).
Even while Jake’s diaper-changing maturation is a given (he’s forced to “manny” in exchange for living with his sister’s family), Adult Beginners does at least strive for gender parity. Byrne’s Justine is a borderline-alcoholic Ivy Leaguer who dropped out of law school when pregnant, now married to a contractor with the disposition and smarts of a golden retriever. Her discontents are like those of Kristen Wiig’s character in Skeleton Twins, compounded by the child that keeps her trapped below potential. As Jake glides easily toward self-validation in this rote, predictable dramedy, it’s Justine’s fate than haunts you after the final hugs. Jake can move on, charming and childless, while she’s stuck in New Rochelle. If there are other options for such women, Adult Beginners ends without exploring them.
ADULT BEGINNERS Opens Fri., May 1 at SIFF Cinema Uptown & Varsity. Rated R. 90 minutes.