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Movie review

More schooling needed for ‘Adult Beginners’

RADiUS-TWC/Courtesy of RADiUS-TWC

Unlike the generation of Thomas Wolfe, these days you can go home again. No matter how badly you screw up and even if you don’t try, you can always crash on the family couch or reoccupy your old bedroom festooned with old movie posters and high school memorabilia. On screen this can be the subject of black humor or wistful sentimentality, but preferably not both, as it is in the case of “Adult Beginners,” a sometimes clever but ultimately clichéd comedy.

Fittingly, the film has an adult beginning before slowly sinking into infantile platitudes. It starts out in the sardonic mode of “The Wolf of Wall Street,” segues into a variation on “Our Idiot Brother,” and resigns itself to the cut-ups and kitsch of “Mr. Mom.”

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Smug and smarmy, Jake (Nick Kroll) first comes on screen in a video inviting the financial backers of his start-up company to the launch party for a cutting-edge, useless device called “Minds i.” There, just as the champagne is being popped, the coke snorted, and a blissed out Jake sprawls in the bathtub with his dishy squeeze, some bad news arrives. The party is over, everyone leaves in disgust, and Jake flees the barrage of furious messages from investors who want to kill him. He retreats to the relative safety of his long estranged sister, Jenny (Rose Byrne). It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

Jenny and her husband Danny (Bobby Cannavale, an intense actor, now apparently stuck playing lumpen family men as in “Blue Jasmine” and “Danny Collins”) live in the siblings’ old family house with their three-year-old and a new addition who’s visibly on the way. Jenny wants nothing to do with her brother, but Danny has a better idea. Why not hire Jake as their live-in nanny?

So Jake must adjust from the life of a would-be high-living entrepreneur to a world involving “leaf babies” and the complications of keeping an eye on a hyper-active kid while trying to answer nature’s call. Will this make Nick less self-centered and more aware of what really matters in life? How much better would the movie be if it did not, or at least not as predictably?

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Instead it takes the easy way out in this and more complicated issues, such as Jake’s relationship with Jenny, which involves the all-too-common scenario of the pampered and self-centered son who leaves the familial dirty work to a sister. Or the resentment of subduing one’s desire and personal happiness to social expectations and unwanted responsibilities. As the title suggests, the film could use some more lessons in what it means to be an adult.


Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.