For too many of its ninety minutes, the protagonist of "Adult Beginners" wants everything handed to him on a platter. Jake is, at first, a selfish man, and Nick Kroll plays him as a dully apathetic person. He's the kinda guy whom it is not remotely difficult to believe meets financial ruin before Ross Katz's directing credit lands onscreen (He's a major investor in some sort of device that does something that Google seems already to have done--until the manufacturer in China bows out of the project and all of his and most of his friends' money is lost). He's carefree before he's forced to care and he's indecisive even after he needs to make decisions. Screenwriters Jeff Cox and Liz Flahive are better at developing everything surrounding Jeff, even if that everything is carefully modulated to flesh out Jake's growth as a mature adult almost exclusively.
He visits his sister Justine (Rose Byrne), who is pregnant, incredibly busy at work and with a young son, and reluctant to accept her brother's need to crash at their place for a few months. Justine's husband Danny (Bobby Cannavale) is up for the idea, though (It is implied that the two have long been friends--perhaps that their friendship led to Danny and Justine's relationship), and he wants to extend it: Let Jake stay and watch their child for roughly 300 dollars per week while the two sort out their job difficulties and the impending sale of their house (which is also Jake and Justine's childhood home). This burden of responsibility is, then, obviously meant to Teach Jake Something About Life.
And so, of course, he discovers that Justine is more complacent in her relatively cushy life than she ever wanted to be. Her job, wherein her boss seems sort of indifferent to her pregnancy, is not one she generally enjoys; she even drinks while pregnant with a young, hopeful law student (a minor, ho ho) because she might want to screw with her current situation. And of course Danny has his own, entirely predictable secret that Jake reveals before long in a vain attempt to show that he's perhaps more mature (He's not wrong in his intentions, though the execution is ironically childish). Neither of these conflicts nor the point at which the latter resolves itself is effectively handled because they feel so contrived to feed the Lesson That Jake Needs to Learn.
The actors, at least, do their part, aside from Kroll, who just seems terminally disinterested until some of the scenes in the final act call upon something different. Byrne is adorably real, as usual, selling all the pangs of both motherhood and sisterhood in this sort-of-crossroads in her life. Cannavale has something less definable to do with a character that really only has one direction in which to go once his secret is revealed (and it is no spoiler to reveal that he ends up in such a place), but the actor does relatively solid work. The screenplay to "Adult Beginners," though, refuses to insert its supporting characters in situations that don't ultimately cater to the rather two-dimensional development of its dull protagonist.
Rose Byrne (Justine), Nick Kroll (Jake), Bobby Cannavale (Danny), Joel McHale (Hudson), Paula Garces (Blanca), Jane Krakowski (Miss Jenn).
Directed by Ross Katz and written by Jeff Cox and Liz Flahive.
Rated R (language, drug use).
Released in select cities on April 24, 2015.