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film review

Adult Beginners stars the gifted funnyman Nick Kroll as Jake, right, a man-child who moves in with his semi-estranged sister, played by Rose Byrne, middle, and Bobby Cannavale, left, as her handyman Cuban-American husband.

After his Google Glass-like gizmo fails miserably, a party-boy entrepreneur hits the commuter rail, retreating flat busted from his hedonistic life in Manhattan. When he takes a seat facing the back of the train, he is cautioned by the conductor. "Going backward makes people nauseous," he is told, and, sure enough, he's feeling right queasy by the time he hits his boyhood hometown of New Rochelle, N.Y.

All aboard the thirty-something existential express – light-comedy stops in Am I Happy?, What Happened to Us and/or Me?, and Gee, Being an Adult Isn't What It's Cracked Up To Be.

Adult Beginners stars the gifted funnyman Nick Kroll as Jake, a man-child who moves in with his semi-estranged sister (Rose Byrne) and her handyman Cuban-American husband (Bobby Cannavale). As the yuppie couple lives in the house in which Nick and his sister grew up, it is a homecoming of sorts. But the old family home is up for sale, and the R&R Nick expected doesn't work out as he had intended.

Life, of course, is what happens while you are busy making other plans. That's the theme of Adult Beginners, a thoughtful, unsurprising dramatic comedy executive produced by Jay and Mark Duplass. If you know the indie filmmaking siblings from their HBO show Togetherness, you will be comfortable with the wry, understated Adult Beginners. For others, the ones who prefer something with more verve – say, Judd Apatow's underrated This is 40 from 2012 – there will be more yawns than guffaws.

Most watchers will enjoy the dry-witted presence of Kroll, as he confronts his irresponsible habits and attempts to repair a relationship with his sister, who, newly pregnant and already the mother of a three-year-old boy she raises with her husband, deals with her own issues. Played with warmth and nuance by the increasingly (and deservedly) ubiquitous Byrne, sister had a promising law career waylaid when Jake's and her mother was stricken with cancer.

When Jake awkwardly bursts into the couple's comfortable but stressed life, he has no prospects. The solution? He's hired as a nanny. Ah, the bachelor and the child thing. If I were the director, I'm sure I would have arranged a winking cameo from either Tom Selleck, Steve Guttenberg or Ted Danson, perhaps having one of them bump into Jake and toddler Teddy in the park in order to offer sage advice.

But I'm not the director. Ross Katz is, and he dunks the film's symbolic action in a community swimming pool. Lil' Teddy is learning to swim, as are, metaphorically and literally, grown-up brother and sister. Nobody taught them as children; as adults they are in over their heads.

And aren't we all. Adult Beginners, a satisfying enough slice of semi-content suburban life, suggests it's never too late to learn.

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