Movie Review: ‘ADULT BEGINNERS’ Has The Goods But Can’t Breakthrough


Cole Clay// Film Critic

ADULT BEGINNERS | 90 min | Rated R
Director: Ross Katz
Cast: Nick Kroll, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale, Joel McHale, Jane Krakowski and Mike Birbiglia

Nick Kroll has been simultaneously funny and annoying for several years now. Rather it be his role on the THE LEAGUE, his stitching sketch-comedy program KROLL SHOW, or arguably his best work appearing on the podcast COMEDY BANG! BANG! He is now spearheading this indie fluff project called ADULT BEGINNERS by producing and creating a story with just the right amount of quirk for people to be fooled by its self-assured yet slight premise.

Kroll stars as Jake, a hip entrepreneur who is on the verge of a lucrative deal that is going to make him and his group of opportunistic friends – including the best in the biz, Joel McHale, and modern day raconteur Mike Birbiglia – a whole bunch of money. Kroll’s mini-version of Jordan Belfort comes to a halting crash after his manufacturers cease production on a particular part that’s integral to his “As Seen On TV” type idea.

The film opens with Kroll being featured in a mock infomercial promoting the product. It calls back to what we have come to expect from the funnyman on KROLL SHOW. But ADULT BEGINNERS adopts a tone that suppresses Kroll’s best attributes by supplementing oddities from nearly every frivolous, life affirming, indie picture. Jake then retreats to his pregnant sister Justine’s (Rose Byrne) house that she shares with her blue-collar husband Danny, (Bobby Cannavale) and their three-year-old son. Days turn to months as Jake bonds with his family and becomes nanny to the resident cuttle little kid.

From left to right: Bobby Cannavale, Rose Byrne and Nick Kroll starring in ADULT BEGINNERS

From left to right: Bobby Cannavale, Rose Byrne and Nick Kroll starring in ADULT BEGINNERS

Tonal clashes don’t take away from the chemistry Kroll has with his co-stars, Byrne in particular, who has quietly become one of the best comedic personalities working today. Kroll is more than capable of carrying a small film like this as long as he stays rooted inside the parameters, instead of being hindered by the dramatic beats. Here, it’s Cannavale who does the heavy-lifting that keeps the film grounded.

While the film takes some unexpected turns, Jake is caught in the middle of his new found buddy in Danny and the new bond he is forging with Justine. Existing outside the nuclear family dynamic is Jake navigating his way around the place he once called home. He interacts with simple townies, aka psuedo-friends, in yet another sketch type environment that’s funny but takes away from the real emotional baggage that’s going down in his domestic life.

Got to give it up, there are plenty of crowd pleasing moments, but it lacks the gut-punch to bring home the dramatic beats. Kroll has a promising career and props to him for not pigeon-holding himself to goofy sketch comedy. But, ADULT BEGINNERS’ earnest demeanor doesn’t exactly play to Kroll’s strengths as a performer.

ADULT BEGINNERS is available on iTunes and VOD tomorrow (April 24), and will screen at Look Cinemas on Friday, May 1.

About author

James C. Clay

James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.