A surprisingly dissonant score signals the darker intentions of director Sarah Adina Smith’s comedy, which is set in motion by an accident that reveals Lex and Mani’s anxieties regarding parenthood — and, possibly, each other.
Far below an aerial shot, jade-green waves crest and unroll to orchestral notes that swell and swirl. The patterns are captivating, morphing from recognized to resembling a spider’s web or a membrane (the sort you might see in a sci-fi movie with a fetus floating in uterine tissue). Cut to Lex (Anna Konkle of Pen15) and Mani (Jermaine Fowler) making out and, fingers crossed and sperm willing, having a child.
This tone shift is designed to foreshadow both the gravitas and wit to follow. Only Smith, working from a screenplay she co-wrote with Joshua Leonard, never quite rides those waves to either perfect laughs or an intriguing blend of genres, as she did in “Buster’s Mal Heart” and “The Midnight Swim.”
It is not due to a lack of ambition and skill. Both the cinematography (by Shaheen Seth) and the music by Ellen Reid validate Smith’s more significant gestures. It is “The Drop’s” comedy that falls short.
The apparent in-sync couple of Mani and Lex are amusing when discussing her ovulation cycles with their flirtatiousness and easy banter. They own a bakery in Los Angeles. They adore one another. And while Mani would like to attend his mother’s birthday celebration in Brooklyn, he is willing to forego it in order to support Lex at the wedding of lawyer Mia (Aparna Nancherla) and gynecologist Peggy (Jennifer Lafleur).
Shauna, a friend and Emmy-winning actor (portrayed by Robin Thede), is footing the bill for the destination wedding at yet another friend-Mexico couple’s beach resort. Josh and Lindsey are played by Joshua Leonard and Jillian Bell, two ex-pats who are struggling to maintain their coolness and financial stability. Robbie is Utkarsh Ambudkar, the complimentarily narcissistic spouse of Shauna.
Levi (Elisha Henig), Shauna’s adolescent son, accompanies her, sporting the necessary amount of peach fuzz to indicate an appropriately risqué adolescence and displaying a pre-incel interest in porn and internet vlogging.
The title relates to the tragic transfer of Mia and Peggy’s child. At the airport curb, Mani gazes wistfully at the infant he has just delivered and placed in Lex’s arms. Horrific thud. As the press notes endearingly observe, Peggy soon states upon her return from the infirmary, “She’s well.”
Which could have been the end of it if it hadn’t been a child who had fallen and if neither the characters nor the audience had been taught to detect subliminal intent in little slips of the tongue, let alone an actual child hitting the ground.
The accident involving Ani becomes a muffled referendum on the type of parent, but more importantly mother, Lex would be. Smith claims that she was inspired by the 2014 Swedish film “Force Majeure,” in which a father flees his family as an avalanche bears down on them during a ski vacation. What courage is to dad in that film, nurturing will is to motherhood in this one.
Lex and Mani are enough sensitive to one another’s emotions to recognize that something big has just occurred but are uncertain as to why. Therefore, Mani contacts his mother (Monnaie Michaell), and Lex invents a particularly poor explanation for the incident.
The second American comedy to draw influence from Ruben Ostlund’s film is “The Drop.” The U.S. version of “Downhill,” starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell, served as a cautionary example of how the film’s insights may be lost in translation.
We like our laughter to go big, our slapstick to swat seriousness. This may explain why, despite the ensemble’s talent, the other couplings feel too manufactured. (Another hindrance may be the comedy’s proximity to HBO’s “White Lotus,” which is all about memorable characters evolving over time.)
These individuals do not appear to be pals or even old friends who have become distant. The fact that Lex and Mia were a couple in the past and that Mia wants Lex to write her and Peggy’s vows is reminiscent of a different, more expansive romantic comedy.
“The Drop” is more intelligent than amusing. As sympathetic as Konkle and Fowler are as the beleaguered couple, the film may have reached a more ideal pairing of each if it had relied more on its intellect, trusted its grim comedy, and allowed its other characters some emotional wiggle space.
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