'Adult Beginners': Toronto Review
Nick Kroll plays a failed entrepreneur who moves in with sister Rose Byrne
A self-involved entrepreneur is forced to discover the worth of family in Ross Katz's Adult Beginners, a surprisingly gentle-hearted vehicle for Nick Kroll, the often abrasive comic actor known for his role as Ruxin on FX's The League and as lead of his own Kroll Show. As a suddenly unsuccessful man, Jake, who moves in with his suburban sister (Rose Byrne) and starts caring for his three-year-old nephew, the comedian employs only a shred of the snarky cynicism he often projects; though that attitude isn't replaced with the syrup one might expect of a man-meets-toddler redemption film, the picture's unexpected mildness (and the scarcity of big laughs) makes it unlikely to launch Kroll as a big-screen comic lead.
We glimpse Jake's high life briefly, at a Manhattan party thanking investors who've sunk millions into his plan for a Google Glass-like gadget called Minds I. But a manufacturing failure sinks the venture in a matter of minutes, leaving him a pariah and penniless. After getting soused, he hops the train and heads to the 'burbs.
He arrives with suitcase and hangover at his childhood home, now inhabited by sis Justine (Byrne), her husband, Danny (Bobby Cannavale, as reliable a manly charm delivery system as ever), and their three-year-old, Teddy. Though Jake is out of touch enough not to know the kid's age, or that Justine is pregnant, he's hoping to crash here for a few months. Luckily, Danny's a generous guy's guy who accepts the houseguest with a shrug. He even offers Jake a job watching Danny.
Unlike many films of this sort, Adult Beginners doesn't involve much of a learning curve. We don't see Jake adjusting to the unglamorous life: He's fully humbled on day one. Nor does he need any time to warm up to the boy. After a day or two of "you get up how early?" he's got the knack, and is comfortable enough to pick up an attractive nanny (Paula Garces) he meets at the playground.
Instead of working those grounds for comedy, the picture focuses on reaffirming Jake's ties to Justine — having the "are you happy with this life?" talk, watching home movies of the mother they lost to cancer and worrying about the state of her relationship with Danny. Familiar little occasions for awkwardness, like the inevitable run-in with an unpopular high-school classmate (a low-key Bobby Moynihan), offer a laugh or two, but Katz is much more interested in observing Jake's newfound emotional core — and probably a bit too confident that a moist-eyed Kroll can turn this quite likable but slight family reunion into something more touching.
Production companies: Duplass Brothers Productions, Burn Later Productions, Through Films
Cast: Rose Byrne, Nick Kroll, Bobby Cannavale, Paula Garces, Jane Krakowski, Joel McHale, Bobby Moynihan, Mike Birbiglia, Josh Charles
Director: Ross Katz
Screenwriters: Jeff Cox, Liz Flahive
Producers: Sam Slater, Paul Bernon, Nick Kroll, Jared Ian Goldman, Marcus Cox, Karrie Cox
Executive producers: Mark Duplass, Jay Duplass, David Bernon
Director of photography: Vanja Cernjul
Production designer: Ola Maslik
Editor: Paul Frank
Music: Marcelo Zarvos
Sales: Liesl Copland, Deborah McIntosh, WME
No rating, 91 minutes