Mix one part holiday sentiment, two parts 21st century bromance and a healthy teaspoon of bath salts and you’ll have cooked up Jonathan Levine‘s latest comedic vision quest. The Night Before is packaged as a drug-fueled Christmas romp starring such likable actors as Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie and Joseph Gordon-Levitt and works from a script from Levine and frequent Rogen collaborator Evan Goldberg. When the formulaic cocktail of easy chemistry and easier laughs is working, The Night Before is funny bone-shaking good, a zesty melange of manic humor, gross out gags and breezy charisma. At one too many of its Santa’s sleigh stops though, the bromance is invaded by bromides, making for an uneven and inconsistent holiday farce with uncomfortably obvious pacing problems. But, being a comedy, the essential question really boils down to: is The Night Before funny? Read More
*This is a reprint of our 2015 Sundance review
Leslye Headland arrived on the cinematic scene in a roundabout kind of way. Her debut film Bachelorette divided audiences – Reelview’s James Berardinelli gave it zero stars and labeled it “the worst movie of 2012” (we gave it a soaring review) – though it’s gone on to achieve a quiet cult status. Originally written as a screenplay then adapted for the stage, her raunchy theatrical production was discovered, altered back into movie form and green lit with an inspired cast (Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan, Isla Fisher, Rebel Wilson.) The outcome was a lewd female Hangover bursting with genuine laughs. In 2013, Headland got back on the horse for a new project, one that she just described as “When Harry Met Sally with assholes.” And so came Sleeping With Other People, a satirically formulaic though gravely side-splitting whooper. Read More
The comic combination of Nick Kroll, Rose Bryne and Bobby Carnavale is enough to sell this wry but formulaic family-member-moves-home farce wholesale. Ironic that Bryne and Carnavale just co-starred side-by-side in Paul Feig’s underwhelming Melissa McCarthy vehicle Spy as arms dealing peers and they here play another side to partners in crime as a husband and wife duo who must make room for Kroll when a failed business investment forces him out of the big city.
Kroll earned notoriety playing the supernaturally dickish Rodney Ruxin on FX’s hit The League before launching his own sketch comedy The Kroll Show. With the later on its final season (it only got four) and the former taking a huge dive in ratings this past season, Kroll has extended his acidic humor to the world of film and if Adult Beginners is any indication, he might have found a new home. Going into the feature, I worried that Kroll’s resume suggested an inability to play sincerity onscreen but Adult Beginners rights any lingering concerns about that. There’s even a potent scene where the Rux drops tear. An honorary Shiva trophy unto him.
Having dumped all his resources into wearable tech that his Chinese producers botched entirely, Kroll’s Jake drops out of the buzzy environs of the inner city and feels compelled to retreat to the suburbs to escape VM death threats and sky-high city loft rent rates. At his childhood home lives sister Justine (Bryne), her husband Danny (Carnavale) and their appropriately difficult 3-year old son. Though Jake wants to sulk and sleep through a few months of respite from high-stakes business, Justine and Danny agree to house him, but only if he’ll play babysitter. Playground accidents and the difficulty of getting personal pooping time challenges Jake but ultimately teaches him an invaluable lesson about family and commitment.
Yes, this sounds like a half dozen comedy/drama concepts we’ve seen before but Adult Beginners doesn’t attempt to distinguish itself by narrative uniqueness. Rather, it thrives on the strength and complexity of its adult characters and their complicated relationships. The comedy executed is smart and biting and Kroll employs his sharp-toothed, droopy eyed shtick whenever he can.
Bobby Moynihan appears in the middle of the film as a washed-up quite-not-former-friend of Jake to illicit what is easily the most chuckle-heavy scene of the film. His shameless line of questioning and oblivious nature towards what is and is not appropriate makes him supporting comedy gold. Conversely, Kroll’s League co-star Jason Mantzoukas fails to muster a laugh as a “manny” (male nanny) with a dad rock side project.
Though Jake and Justine begin their new relationship on estranged footing, director Ross Katz is never estranged from the strengths of Adult Beginners – a cast that can operate equally well in dramatic and comedic situations, a smart script from Kroll and genuine moments of emotional and intellectual progress.
As Jake is advised in a business meeting, there are two highways in life and the fast road to success is one you have to travel alone. In the past, Jake has always chosen the door to career advancement and dollar bills, ignoring the people who make life actually worthwhile. As Jake and Justine content with the ups and downs of their strained though improving relationship, Adult Beginners turns into a kind of rom-com between siblings. 60 years of rom-com history have told us that things always end up peachy but Adult Beginners is one of the rare few that actually earns its peachy flavor.
Leslye Headland arrived on the cinematic scene in a roundabout kind of way. Her debut film Bachelorette divided audiences -Reelview’s James Berardinelli gave it zero stars and labeled it “the worst movie of 2012” (we gave it a soaring review) though it’s gone on to achieve a quiet cult status. Originally written as a screenplay then adapted for the stage, her raunchy theatrical production was discovered, altered back into movie form and green lit with an inspired cast (Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan, Isla Fisher, Rebel Wilson.) The outcome was a lewd female Hangover bursting with genuine laughs. In 2013, Headland got back on the horse for a new project, one that she just described as “When Harry Met Sally with assholes.” And so came Sleeping With Other People, a satirically formulaic though gravely side-splitting whooper.
Those fond of indie-leaning contemporary relationship fare will find Headland malting her sugary goodness in a salty brine. Fans of You’re the Worst will find many parallels to FX’s underrated and desperately sarcastic rom-com. Hence the whole “with assholes” sentiment. Tossing up a 21st century mentality on sexuality, Sleeping With Other People – as its name implies – is about the loose mortality of the modern man as sex predator and the childlike, pissy murkiness of the dating pool. Squaring two flawed-in-a-charming-way rubes against one another, Headland deliberates but decidedly chooses to hem just far enough from the commercially successful star-studded rom coms of box office trumpings. Her vision is much seedier and much more real for it.
Jason Sudeikis stars opposite Alison Brie as a pair of sexually incomplete post-Millennials who lost their virginity to one another 12 years back. The fateful teeth of serendipity strike as they come to head at a sex addicts anonymous meeting. Rather than lunge at each other’s genitals like venereal tigers, they fall into an all-consuming friendship, pledging to stay as Platonic as “Symposium” and totally not bone each other. Complications arise.
As a womanizer of the most severe degree, Jake (Sudeikis) is a conquistador of panties flagging his way through New York like a Minesweeper pro. But his sights are immovably squared on Lainey (Brie), who herself is struggling from a serious case of unwarranted love addition. Her mark: the perennially boring Matthew Sobvechik (Adam Scott.) Jealousy, that fickle mare, rears her head but Headland knows how to tame it into hilarious and heartwarming shapes.
Lines between friendship and relationship become palpably blurred – a fact that circumstantial BFF Xander (Jason Mantzoukas) is happy to point out – as Jake and Lainey fall deeper into their nonphysical courtship. For all the sex that they’re not having though, the film is gooey with sexual situations and genuinely side-splitting carnal talks. Sudeikis performing a “rude DJ” lesson on a Green Tea bottle is the peak of Headland’s sardonic raunch.
Natural chemistry between Brie and Sudeikis makes their jabs and mounting affection land all the more. As the third act runs, Headland proves a storytelling tease; her will-they-or-won’t-they battleground threatens to come to a standstill as she holds her characters back from one another like rabid dogs on chains. It’s a rare occasion that I find myself rooting for an onscreen romantic comedy couple but Headland turned me to putty in her emotionally manipulative, relationship-calloused hands.