Familial estrangement is not a new topic to explore in movies. “Adult Beginners” does so in very familiar fashion.
Maybe the reason “Adult Beginners” seems so familiar is because of “The Skeleton Twins”, which came out last year. “The Skeleton Twins” featured a great pair of performances by Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, as brother and sister who had been apart for 10 years. The sibling duo in “Adult Beginners”, Jake and Justine (Nick Kroll and Rose Byrne), haven’t seen each other in a few years. There really isn’t a huge sense of distance between Jake or Justine, like Wiig and Hader’s characters from “The Skeleton Twins”, which helped make that film so compelling.
In all of its narrative familiarity, “Adult Beginners” is fine. It’s passable but doesn’t make much of a lasting impression. The cast is made of all likable actors, especially Byrne, who is always a welcomed presence on screen. We’ve seen more memorable work from everyone involved.
The movie begins with Jake getting ready for his company to go big. His company crashes just as fast as it rises and he finds himself at the doorstep of Justine’s house. Justine is married to Danny (Bobby Cannavale) and they have a 3-year-old son and another child on the way. Justine and Danny offer to let Jake stay with them for a while. To make money, Justine and Danny hire Jake as their nanny. It’s quite the adjustment for the self-centered Jake.
There are some interesting moments in “Adult Beginners”, like trying to watch Jake adapt to having to take care of someone else – a child, no less – and realize the world does not revolve around him. He is broken and in the lowest point of his life, yet the thought of getting up at 7 a.m. to help give his nephew breakfast seems unfathomable. The film gives Jake an interesting, if predictable, arc.
Producer-turned-director Ross Katz – who produced such prestige pictures as “In the Bedroom” and “Lost in Translation – makes his directorial debut here and keeps things moving smoothly. Jeff Cox and Liz Flahive wrote the script, from a story by Kroll. They never miss a beat in the script, borrowing a lot from much stronger material.
It might not be fair to keep comparing “Adult Beginners” to “The Skeleton Twins”, but with that movie still fresh in our minds, it’s hard not to. Byrne and Kroll are pleasant together, but they don’t have the same chemistry as Wiig and Hader. Also probably not fair, since those two are friends and worked together on SNL for all those years.
“Adult Beginners” isn’t a terrible film. However, it will be one that is easy to forget after seeing.
“Adult Beginners” rates 5 out of 10