ByBenjamin Marlatt, writer at

On the eve of his product’s big launch, young, hipster entrepreneur Jake (Nick Kroll) learns that his tech company’s gone under, losing his job, all the investments his friends chipped in and his girlfriend in the process.

With no other choice available, Jake leaves Manhattan and moves in with his estranged sister Justine (Rose Byrne) and her husband Danny (Bobby Cannavale), who offer him a room in exchange for watching their 3-year-old kid Teddy (Caleb and Matthew Paddock).

Upon watching Adult Beginners, one might find it hard to not think of The Skeleton Twins, a similar film about adult siblings dealing with various issues. That’s a film I highly recommend seeing. The terrific performances from Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig alone are worth the watch.

Like The Skeleton Twins, Adult Beginners is executive produced by the Duplass brothers, Mark (FX’s The League) and Jay, the dramedy darlings who gave us The Puffy Chair, Baghead, Cyrus, Safety Not Guaranteed and Jeff, Who Lives at Home. In the director’s chair is Ross Katz, this being his feature-length film debut as a director. Having previously worked as a producer on dramas such as In the Bedroom and Lost in Translation (both of which earned him a Best Picture nomination), a more relaxed style of comedy seems like an odd choice to transition over to director, but partnering up with the Duplass brothers, who know this territory like the back of their hand, doesn’t hurt.

It’s silly to expect any surprises here. The formula is overly familiar; see one dramedy, and for the most part, you’ve seen ‘em all. Expect the usual devices such as the witty, sometimes snarky banter, a revealed affair in the second-act and the obligatory metaphors, the indie favorite of course being the underwater immersion gimmick which signifies the character’s “rebirth” (the title refers to the “adult beginners” program Justine and Jake take part in at a swim class).

Overall, though, Adult Beginners may not reinvent the dramedy, and it doesn’t have as much of the bite and heart that The Skeleton Twins or some of the other Duplass brothers’ works have, but it is an easygoing, casually-paced film that goes down smoothly like comfort food. Katz and husband-and-wife writing team Jeff Cox and Liz Flahive (using real life circumstances of their own to base their screenplay on Nick Kroll’s story idea) know where to place all the requisite emotional beats that can be checked off like a to do list; however, it’s the authenticity they bring to the three primary characters, as well as the performances from a talented cast, that allow them to work.

The lovely and irresistibly charming Rose Byrne has never been better as she is here. Although she’s been in the acting game for a little over 20 years, it’s only been for about the past five years or so that she’s been finding her stride as not just a leading lady, but one that can handle both dramatic and comedic roles with equal effectiveness. Bobby Cannavale brings his likeable energy to Byrne’s husband Danny, and Nick Kroll is much fun as the sharp-tongued Jake. Cox and Flahive don’t dig as deep into these characters’ issues as other dramedies have done for their own, but Byrne, Cannavale and Kroll fit so comfortably into these roles and the great chemistry between the three of them help create believable relationships.

The real surprise out of the three is Kroll. Not that his chops for comedy is any surprise; we know of his capabilities there. It’s how well he does in the more dramatic moments between him and Byrne that shows he can be more than the obnoxiously sarcastic type he’s made his name with on The League and Kroll Show, giving his trademark smug sarcasm just the right amount of humanity.

Predictable to a fault, Adult Beginners is like many other dramedies that wrap up its loose ends tidily and reunite broken family factions all by the end of the film. No one’s saying this is a perfect film, but it’s still an undeniable charmer that, while not entirely engaging, is pleasantly enjoyable thanks to three winning performances from Nick Kroll, Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale.

I give Adult Beginners a B (★★★).

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