Adult Beginners


Have you ever been in a situation where your entire life has completely crashed?  What do you do?  Where do you go?  How do you go about recovering?

Jake (Nick Kroll) is a thirty-something entrepreneur who has spent the last 3 years preparing to launch a start-up company.  On the eve of the big launch, at the celebration party, everything falls down like a house of cards.  All his friends (who invested with him) now hate him.  His girlfriend leaves him.  He’s beyond completely broke; he’s incurred tremendous debt which he cannot begin to repay.  And now he can’t pay his rent, either.  Family?  His Mom is dead, his Dad has moved to Florida and re-married some mindless bimbo.  All he really has is his sister Justine (Rose Byrne), living with her husband Danny (Bobby Cannavale) and their 3-year-old son, Teddy, in the old family homestead.  Literally having no other options, Jake knocks on the door of his sister’s house, suitcase in hand, asking if he can stay there for a while.

At first Justine is non-plussed, because apparently she and Jake haven’t even spoken to each other in a while, much less visited.  Yeah, they’ve both been busy, but they don’t seem to have been all that close, either.  Nobody is sure what to do now.  But Danny suggests that Jake stay with them in exchange for being Teddy’s caretaker.  It would save them the money to pay for a sitter or a Nanny.  He could be the “Manny.”

No, it’s not a premise for a predictably dumb comedy about a previously-oblivious guy being introduced to the care and feeding of a small child.  Though Jake struggles with it more than he figured he would, and calls Justine at work about “emergencies” like he can’t figure out how to open the stroller, he slowly begins to adapt.

But as “down in the dumps” as Jake is, it turns out that Justine and Danny don’t exactly have everything in their lives figured out, either.  Justine finds that she is pregnant with her second child, and between wanting to spend time with her son and prenatal visits to the doctor, she really doesn’t feel she has time to be the gung-ho teacher that her principal would like for her to be.  Danny, supposedly a contractor so successful that he’s showing off the house he’s building to Justine so they can think about buying it, is actually not as prosperous as he pretends to be.  For that matter, he’s really not the dedicated husband he pretends to be, either, and when Jake discovers this, he’s really caught in the middle about divulging this explosive information to his oblivious sister.

No, it really doesn’t seem like anybody’s having very much fun here, and that’s the primary difficulty with the movie.  For a guy who’s supposed to be about comedy, Kroll, a stand-up comedian who helped write the screenplay, this script is remarkably unfunny.  It’s really more about Jake developing into a more well-rounded family guy, albeit through his sister.  It’s rare that a movie focuses so much on adult sibling relationships, so in that aspect it’s unusual, but it fails to soar.  Not even Cannavale’s screen presence can save this one from the double dread: mediocrity and lack of target audience.


Questions for Discussion:

1)      If you suddenly found yourself completely destitute, where would you go?

2)      Would you be willing to take in a family member who appears on your doorstep and asks to stay?  Are there family members you would exclude?

3)      How important are your relationships with your adult siblings?  How important would you like for them to be?


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Supply Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Kaufman, Texas