A review of “Adult Beginners,” starring Nick Kroll as a 30-something man named Jake who returns to his childhood home after an embarrassing failure in his professional life. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
“Adult Beginners” is one of those agreeable small-scale movies that doesn’t seem particularly ambitious; its only goal is to charm, and it does so, irresistibly. Its story is familiar (and, in fact, quite close to that of the equally good “The Skeleton Twins” last year): A 30-something man named Jake (Nick Kroll), after an embarrassing failure in his professional life, returns to his hometown to live — in his childhood home, no less — with his semi-estranged sister Justine (Rose Byrne) and her family. Taking a job as his 3-year-old nephew’s nanny, Jake learns that yes, you can go home again.
This sounds like a movie you’ve already seen, but director Ross Katz and screenwriters Jeff Cox and Liz Flahive give it all a fresh spin. Kroll’s Jake, who in the opening scenes seems as if his troubles are literally pressing him down, finds a funny chemistry with his toddler charge (whom Jake trundles off to the playground in a wheelie suitcase, after he can’t get the stroller to unfold). And Byrne, her wide eyes conveying a complex mixture of love and frustration and her voice adorably drooping, makes Justine someone we all know: the one who tries hard, with chaos swirling around her, to make everything all right. Bobby Cannavale brings his bad-puppy charm to the role of Justine’s husband, and Jane Krakowski attempts to steal the movie — and almost succeeds — in the role of a singing swim instructor. (Don’t all swim instructors sing? Shouldn’t they?)
You pretty much know exactly where “Adult Beginners” is going, but it’s a pleasure to watch it go there — and to watch a family emerge from the chaos. There’s a dryness to the tone that makes the final message, though familiar, all the more moving: All you need, Jake and Justine learn, is love.
Movie Review ★★★
‘Adult Beginners,’ with Rose Byrne, Nick Kroll, Bobby Cannavale, Paula Garces, Jane Krakowski, Joel McHale. Directed by Ross Katz, from a screenplay by Jeff Cox and Liz Flahive. 90 minutes. Rated R for some drug use. SIFF Cinema Uptown, Varsity.