I’m thinking the brother and sister in “Adult Beginners” would be good friends with the brother and sister from last year’s “Skeleton Twins.”
The latter film starred Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as estranged twins who reunite after many years and have to navigate their way through all sorts of emotional roadblocks and challenges that will result in full-on reconciliation — or another prolonged period of living separate lives. Hader and Wiig were fantastic together. Please rent “The Skeleton Twins.”
In “Adult Beginners,” here we go again, and with similarly satisfying results. This is a smart and winning dramatic comedy with excellent performances from Nick Kroll as Jake, a self-centered, Manhattan-based hotshot who crashes and burns when his Google Glass-like venture is about as successful as, well, Google Glass; and Rose Byrne as Jake’s older sister Justine, a suburban wife, mother and high school guidance counselor who wakes up exhausted, puts in 16-hour days and collapses in a heap before doing it all over again.
Directed by Ross Katz and executive produced by the Duplass brothers (the aforementioned “Skeleton Twins,” “Cyrus,” “The Puffy Chair”), “Adult Beginners” has a casual, comfortable, low-budget authenticity, though it loses some of its edge near the end with some overly predictable and familiar resolutions. (But even then, there’s a refreshing self-awareness. One character even comments about how a pivotal moment isn’t going to be like something out of “Jerry Maguire.”)
Kroll, who has made something of a specialty out of playing sarcastic, obnoxious characters on TV, is in that same zone here as Jake, who believes the sun rises and sets with him until he loses all of his money — not to mention the money of many of his friends and associates, who all drop him like a bad habit when things go sour. Humiliated but not necessarily humbled, Jake escapes Manhattan and shows up on his sister’s doorstep.
It’s been so long since they’ve seen each other that Justine takes a moment to recognize Jake, who is vaguely aware Justine has a son. Justine fills him in on the details: His name is Teddy and he’s three. Oh, and Justine is once again pregnant. Not exactly the perfect time for a little brother pop-in visit.
Justine’s husband Danny (Bobby Canavale, entertaining as always), a contractor who adores his wife and son but welcomes the chance for a buddy with whom to hang out and smoke pot in the garage, comes up with a great plan: Jake can stay in the guest room, and they’ll pay him a few hundred bucks a week to watch Teddy.
Of course Jake is a terrible guardian. Unable to figure out how to open one of those tricky, 21st century strollers, Jake plops Teddy in a suitcase and rolls him to the playground. He hits on a nanny and mocks a “manny.” After all of one day watching the indefatigable Teddy, he’s ready to call it quits.
Byrne is a delight as Justine, who is gorgeous and smart and caring, but also something of a train wreck. She makes some really bad decisions, especially on the job.
Same goes for Cannavale’s work as Danny. At first it seems like he’s just going to be the lovable lug as comic relief, but there’s more to Danny than that, and not all of it is great. As Jake slowly evolves into someone capable of actually caring about other people, he learns Justine and Danny are far from perfect.
In other words, we’re getting a nice, well-written, solid movie about people we believe would actually exist in real life.