“Adult Beginners” is cut from the same cloth as the recently released “The Skeleton Twins.” It’s another brother-returns-to-his-suburban-New-York-state-hometown-to-confront-his-estranged-family-and-his-past-while-forging-a-future movie starring people known for comedy—Nick Kroll and Rose Byrne—but who don’t play up the laughs.
Kroll is Jake, a New York City entrepreneur who went broke and bankrupted several friend in a failed high tech manufacturing scheme. Penniless and friendless—“I’ve changed your name in my phone to ‘life ruiner,’” says one former investor—he retreats to his hometown, the sleepy New Rochelle.
Sister Justine (Byrne) and her husband Danny (Bobby Cannavale) reluctantly allow him to move in but just for three months and only if he’ll play nanny to Teddy (Caleb and Matthew Paddock), his three-year-old nephew. “I wish you came to visit because you were happy,” says Justine.
At first Jake is ill equipped to deal with the youngster but soon finds being a caregiver comes naturally to him. What is more difficult is finding happy and smooth relationships with Justine, who harbours some resentment from the past and Danny who has a damaging secret.
Both “Adult Beginners” and “The Skeleton Twins” chronicle unhappy thirtysomethings who parade their dysfunction for the cameras. Jake is a self-absorbed jerk, Justine drinks while pregnant and Danny looks for love in all the wrong places. Depending on your point of view they’re either awful people, or, if you are director Ross Katz, you see them as tragic characters who are a product of their pasts. The truth is probably somewhere in between and whatever side you fall on will determine your enjoyment of the movie. One thing is for sure, no one on display is terribly happy.
Of the leads Bryne and Kroll milk the drama and the comedy from the script, but a predictable story arc sucks much of the life out of Canavale’s storyline. He’s an agreeable and welcome presence, but feels extraneous.
“Adult Beginners” has good, appealing performers, but shop worn plot points and a predictable conclusion mar what might have been an insightful look at troubled a troubled generation.