There are some subjects that insist upon jagged edges, and it seems to me that a black comedy about dropping a baby on its head needs to go hard, real hard, or why bother? And for at least the first act of Sarah Adina Smith’s The Drop (which just premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last week) I thought we might be wading into pitch-black classic territory. Starring comedians Anna Konkle (PEN15 hive holla) and Jermaine Fowler (from bojack horseman) as Lex and Mani, a young bakery-owning couple who are trying to get pregnant and who find their understandings of their desires suddenly slipping through their fingers like so much infant onto the pavement, The Drop starts out hot and fierce and rollickingly funny. But like so much shaken baby syndrome, the laughs dry up too fast.
Lex and Mani might seem a little neurotic upfront, but moreso they come off as deeply in love, and definitely pretty sure about their future family prospects. It’s easy enough to dream and dare and be though when it’s just you and your glowing beloved, propping up your legs together for some perfectly appointed post-insemination siesta. But before that wetness can even dry properly they’re running off to catch a first-class flight to a tropical destination wedding—Mia (Aparna Nancherla), an ex of Lex’s, is getting married to her girlfriend Peggy (Jennifer Lafleur), and all of Lex’s college buds are converging onto a gorgeous resort atop the hills of a small Mexican island so they can celebrate the love.
That love is big and that love is also spread out real thin—we realize quick that this is one of those friend groups where half the people once boinked everybody else, in that way that some groups of college friends are wont to do. I won’t even attempt to diagram all of the overlapping tendrils of these fuck-bud relationships, but that first class flight was paid for by Shauna (Robin Thede) and Robbie (Utkarsh Ambudkar from The Dropout), the extremely successful show-runners of an SVU-esque cop show, while the fancy resort they’re all heading to is owned by Josh (Joshua Leonard, who also co-wrote the film) and Lindsay (the always delightful Jillian Bell from the 21 Jump Street movies). Also along for the ride is Levi (Elisha Henig), Shauna and Robbie’s deeply creepy teenage son, and oh did I mention Mia and Peggy’s newborn baby girl…
After a slightly wacky plane-ride that can’t help but bring back memories of Kristen Wiig seeing a colonial woman churning butter on the wing in Bridesmaids—I don’t write the rules but every ensemble comedy with a scene set on a plainly studio-built airplane set must call that scene to mind, from now until eternity—the group land, they disembark, they get good and lei’d . Mani, drunk on his own dreams of fatherhood, asks to hold the newborn, and he does so warmly. But when he decides he needs to see Lex looking like the mother of his dreams too, things spin out a little too quickly, and before we know it the film’s title card has hysterically slammed onto the screen, describing what we’ve just witnessed with a thud of dark comic precision.
The baby, it should be said, is okay! But it’s a gut-busting moment for the bravery of Really Going There, and I am allowed to say that as a person whose own mother has proudly regaled strangers with the tale of that time she slipped on the ice in front of my childhood home and my infant ass went flying. Unfortunately from that point on The Drop can’t really decide on a tone and it flails, much like its characters. There are plenty of laughs that follow—these are professional people who are good at what they do—but it’s too bad the film’s high point comes in at under the half-an-hour mark, with a fully just-okay hour that follows.
After the drop everybody’s insecurities spiral out and every couple is tested, but none more than Mani and Lex—everybody side-eyes her, thinking her repressed doubts about motherhood have manifested themselves in that moment of reckoning. And worse she’s not sure they’re wrong. Neither is Mani, who also becomes besieged by doubts—indeed that dropped baby is the spark that lights all of their fuses, and what seemed like a simple fashionable vacay becomes tinged with bad mojo. Just ask the old lady on the beach who’s quickly gathering up her handmade jewelry and spitting in their general direction.
I’ll admit I wasn’t surprised to find out after the fact that a lot of The Drop was apparently improvised by the actors, which seems to my eye as the root of the film’s undoing. The looseness and meandering quality of that last hour is pretty well at odds with the dark satire I was really desiring from this material. Every character is set up as slightly loathsome, but a geniality keeps slipping in that undoes that—The Drop just can’t seem to make itself be as mean as it needs to be. And I feel like a firmer scripted arc to everybody would’ve helped it feel less half-determined. I won’t go so far as to say the whole thing should be tossed out with the bath-water—I belly-laughed quite a lot—but what could’ve been a comedy that left a lasting mark ends up just a little bump instead.
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Image sources (in order of posting): Duplass Brothers Productions,