Adult Beginners

Kroll Over, Play Dead

Starring: Nick Kroll, Rose Byrne

Review written by Robert D. Patrick

A thirty-something has an existential crisis, burrows into depression, and has some snarky, impertinent bile to spew against the walls of their loved ones’ home. This is an insipid, burgeoning genre that began with the tired eyelids of Owen Wilson in the aughts, and just hasn’t slowed down since. Jeff, Who Lives at Home, Happy Christmas, and, most recently, The Skeleton Twins have all approached the transformation comedy of what it takes to be an adult when you’re just not ready, bro.

Can we stop drawing from this well? Can we just demolish the thing? Throw a stick of TNT down into it?

Newly unemployed Jake (Nick Kroll) slinks back to his childhood home, carrying only a crestfallen gaze and a mussed lid of hair. Seeking refuge, he intends to bore himself into the nearest mattress and hibernate there. Justine (Rose Byrne), Jake’s sister, allows him to stay with her family under certain “comedic” concessions – he has to look after her son! How is this bedraggled, monotone, self-effacing manchild going to look after an energetic kid if he cant even look after himself?!

The groaning commences.

Clearly, screenwriters Liz Flahive and Jeff Cox have seen Mr. Mom, School of Rock, True Adolescents, or any other number of schlep-meets-his-match comedies. This kind of tired banana peel humor lifts its wary head throughout director Ross Katz’s meandering film. The soggy one liners rain down, glibly, as if any of the random non sequiturs are even remotely funny. “Oh, leaf babies,” Kroll cries out, when seeing his nephew’s art, “that makes perfect sense!” Is this supposed to be hilarious because it’s random? How does this work?

Even though she’s given little to do, Rose Byrne has an inherent likability that elevates this film, ever so mildly, over its sluggish ninety-minute running time. Byrne’s character seems relieved of texture: Justine is a mother, so she is tired. Justine is a sister, so she begrudgingly loves her brother. Justine eats, because she is a living person. There’s not much going on here to make her more than a prop. The characters can be confused, but should the screenwriters be?

Kroll can be snide and erudite, when he has the right material, but here he is playing a lo-fi version of Mark Duplass (which seems apropos, since both Duplass brothers produced Adult Beginners). Strangely, there’s not one line of interesting dialogue here. Not one funny thought. Not one clever observation or interesting interplay between characters. This is a placid, moss filled lake of nothing. With so many similar films being released lately, there’s absolutely no reason to encourage this “dude, what do I do now?” genre to continue – as of now, the laziness of its characters has officially seeped over to the filmmaking process itself.

Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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1 Comment

  1. good review, but the back-story on how it was produced, would make it even better. Nick Kroll is the talent challenged son of one of the most rich and connected men in modern history. And, Nick Kroll’s dad is proud of Kroll’s “entrepreneurial approach to comedy.”

    In other words, Nick Kroll can care less if something is funny or even good, as long as it advances his very calculated approach to Hollywood fame. Very few seem to know what a dismal failure his Kroll Show wasecause Nick Kroll took care of that using Kroll contacts in the press. Krolll Group offers very lucrative incentives to those who are willing to print what they are told. The ratings were rock bottom from he start, and there was no critical support. Nick Kroll did write checks to assure manufactured fandom, but that doesn’t count. Nick Kroll has employed his father’s call in favors approach in order to get this cast, Idiot Nick even admits it.

    It’s assumed that if it “Kroll Show, got three seasons, someone liked it. But the truth is he simply wrote huge checks to cover the costs of its failure and Comedy Central agreed to this shady arrangement. Many reviewers seem at loss as to why this production even exists, considering how derivative and meaningless it seems. Well, the answer is that this is just another step in — Jules Kroll’s youngest son wants to prove something to dad, and to the kids at the Rye Country Day school who saw him as a joke.

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