‘Growing Up and Other Lies’: Napa Valley Review

Courtesy of Napa Valley Film Festival
Nobody said adulthood was going to be easy.  

This sophomore feature from filmmakers Danny Jacobs and Darren Grodsky co-stars Josh Lawson, Adam Brody and Amber Tamblyn

It’s never too late for nominally adult men to behave like irresponsible teenagers in Darren Grodsky’s and Danny Jacobs’ strenuously nonconformist buddy comedy. Intermittently amusing but rarely as funny as it wants to be, this low-budget indie will find its best fit on digital platforms. 

If you’ve ever wondered how long the island of Manhattan measures from tip to tip, it’s just over 13 miles, but more importantly if you’re walking, it’s 260 blocks. That’s according to Jake (Josh Lawson), who’s planning to traverse the entire length of the borough one spring Saturday with his three best friends in an attempt to re-create a random accomplishment from their carefree younger days before he leaves the city for good. Fed up with having his street art rejected and disrespected, Jake’s moving back to his home state of Ohio to take a legit job with his dad’s company, but first he wants one last blast from the past with his thirty-something best buds. Trouble is, they’re just as confused and conflicted as he is, even at the point that social expectations dictate they should all be getting their lives together.

Billy (co-director Danny Jacobs) can’t figure out how to climb the corporate ladder and his career looks about to stall. Gunderson (Wyatt Cenac) seems to be drifting from one uneventful episode to another and he’s hardly made more progress than when he was a college student. Rocks (Adam Brody) is facing the ultimate predicament, however, since his girlfriend Emma (Lauren Miller) is imminently expecting their baby and he’s still feeling uncommitted to their relationship and parenthood overall. After starting off the day with shared slugs from a paper-bagged bottle of liquor, the four begin their trek from the vicinity of Inwood Hill Park at the northern end of Manhattan, hoping to recapture the euphoria that accompanied their original sojourn when they were in their 20s.

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A visit to the uptown apartment they used to share in Washington Heights rekindles some old roommate rivalries, leading to the disclosure that Jake’s ex-girlfriend Tabatha (Amber Tamblyn) is once again single. That revelation sends the group on a detour to  Central Park so Jake can get reacquainted with Tabatha, who invites the men to her parents’ apartment for a dinner party later in the day. Whether they can extricate themselves with enough time to make their appointed visit to Battery Park at the foot of Manhattan before sunset will depend on each of the men coming to terms with some unfinished personal business.  

Jacobs and Grodsky, who previously wrote and directed the comedy Humboldt County, appear to have a persistently regressive view of maturity, often crafting situations and dialogue that rely on repetitive,  juvenile behavior even when it’s clearly detrimental, with only mildly humorous results. If the comedy had been pitched at a far more outrageous level this approach might have tipped the balance, but as it is the film doesn’t stretch the talents of these actors in the least.

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Lawson shambles through the film with a slacker’s demeanor, infrequently conveying the urgency of Jake’s uncertainty about leaving New York. Jacobs and Cenac serve primarily as placeholders, representing the extremes of Gunderson’s almost complete rejection of conventional employment and Billy’s near-obsessive anxiety over professional advancement. Brody, who plays a math tutor, probably comes the closest to setting an example for the others, if he only could realistically accept his parental duties. Tamblyn’s role seems tacked-on and her performance doesn’t do much to elevate the film’s only female character of any consequence.

Despite a dearth of notable narrative advancement, the directors clearly know the layout of Manhattan and keep the onscreen action lively enough in the outdoor scenes, navigating city streets and distinct neighborhoods with alacrity as the men gradually make their way downtown. The kid’s birthday party in Central Park where Jake meets Tabatha fairly percolates with genuine zaniness, but interiors tend to drag, particularly the dinner party scenes with Tabatha’s requisitely quirky extended family.

If the film’s conclusion impresses as rather too neat for a setup that noticeably lacks structure, at least the outcome of the day’s trek represents some incremental forward progress for characters stuck in place for too long.

Production companies: Embark Productions, GoldApple Entertainment

Cast: Josh Lawson, Adam Brody, Danny Jacobs, Wyatt Cenac, Amber Tamblyn, Lauren Miller

Directors-writers: Darren Grodsky,Danny Jacobs

Producers: Nicole Lederman, Katie Mustard, Jason Weiss

Executive producers: Darren Grodsky, Danny Jacobs, Avy Kaufman, Tim Kendall           

Director of photography: Christopher Baffa  

Production designer: Maya Sigel 

Costume designer: Sarah Mae Burton 

Editor: Josh Noyes 

Music: Fil Eisler, Philip Klein 

Casting: Avy Kaufman 


No rating, 90 minutes