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Know When to Hold 'Em

Universal Pictures Content Group

The Adults (2023)

This is a minor movie, your enjoyment of which will mostly depend on your tolerance for watching a group of adult siblings squabble like little kids, but if that is your thing you'll have a wonderful time.

Eric (Michael Cera) has arrived in his hometown after being away a few years, but he’s checked into a hotel. Immediately he receives a few calls, and tell everyone he's going to see the other caller first. Instead he goes on a search for a friend named Dennis (Wavyy Jonez), who is not all that delighted to see him but always willing to seat another sucker at his poker games. Eventually he meets his sisters at a diner. Rachel (Hannah Gross) works at a radio station and dresses like the caretaker of a haunted mansion, which in a way she is, as she kept their mother's large gabled house after her death. Their younger sister, Maggie (Sophia Lillis), dresses like a teenage boy and is a little adrift since dropping out of college. Things are awkward. So awkward that Maggie resurrects a song and dance routine they had created as kids; all of them still have the routine memorized. But it takes a lot more than that to break the ice.

They aren't frozen in childhood, but they've simply never tried to relate to each other as grown people and by God they are bad at it. Their first big outing is to a zoo, for heaven’s sake. They are much more comfortable talking in the voices of various cartoon personas, developed in childhood, all of which have names (Maggie's is also an octopus, which requires much waving of the arms). Slowly, it becomes clear none are doing as well as they pretend to be, though of course one expects little else when comedic actors like Mr. Cera play serious parts; just look at the careers of Kristen Wiig or Will Ferrell.

Writer-director Dustin Guy Defa does a brave thing here by showing how this childish behavior is stunting all of them; Rachel even uses one of her voices in an office disagreement to try to get her her way, which goes as well as you'd expect. Maggie is thinking of maybe moving to Utah and training as a river raft guide, while Eric doesn't seem to have anything going on but an escalating series of poker games. (Mr. Cera had a previous, blood-curdling turn as a manipulative poker player in “Molly's Game,” so revisiting that area of work here is an unusual choice.) But all they need is a little time together, building to a deeply weird moment of catharsis soundtracked to, of all things, “Overkill” by Men at Work, an Australian song first released in 1983 which found a second life through the TV show “Scrubs” in 2002. It was certainly the most outré needle drop at this year's Berlinale, but somehow it worked. It really shouldn't have, but something in how much these siblings need each other finds its release with the lyrics about overthinking a life decision running underneath. It’s a satisfying resolution, but it doesn’t make up for the slightness of the plot.


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