"The Drop" never takes off as the cringe comedy it wants to be

The Drop (2023)

Have you ever dropped your friend’s baby? Never? Well, that is the inciting incident in “The Drop,” a loose, shaggy, mostly irritating indie comedy about pre-parenthood anxieties. It’s a Duplass Brothers production, so we know it could possibly be a deft mixture of low-key cringe comedy and honest soul-searching that could go to weird, daring places. Given the cast of improv comedy performers assembled by writer-director Sarah Adina Smith (2021’s “Birds of Paradise”) and co-writer Joshua Leonard (who’s also part of the ensemble), it's a major disappointment when “The Drop” shows too many signs of a failure to launch. Sure, it has some moments that amuse from being uncomfortable, but on the whole, this just isn’t as funny or as insightful as it wants to be.

Anna Konkle (the co-star and co-creator of Hulu’s “Pen15”) and Jermaine Fowler play Lex and Mani, a Los Angeles bakery owner and her husband. They’re ready to start a family, or so they think. Headed to a destination wedding in Mexico with a group of her old friends, Lex is tasked with not only baking the cake but writing the vows for a lesbian couple, gun-carrying, possibly conservative Mia (Aparna Nancherla) and level-headed gynecologist Peggy (Jennifer Lafleur). As they’re all loading up outside the airport to drive to their island resort, the brides-to-be hand off their baby girl to Lex, who accidentally drops her on the pavement after a bee buzzes by her head. The baby is fine, besides having to wear a little helmet indefinitely, but Lex feels extreme guilt and shame. This “drop” sours the rest of the weekend and makes both Lex and Mani question Lex’s maternal instincts. 

Before the drop itself, bombastic swells of an orchestral score over crashing beach waves knowingly set the tone for a drama of great consequence. Swap out an adult slapping a friend’s child (2015’s NBC show “The Slap”) or a father’s selfish act of saving himself during a controlled avalanche (2014’s “Force Majeure” or even its 2020 U.S. counterpart “Downhill”), and “The Drop” uses its baby-dropping accident as the catalyst for an observational comedy of manners instead. Or, it's just a lot of meandering ad-libbing within the structure of a farcical situational comedy. Sarah Adina Smith and Joshua Leonard’s script does have its prickly interpersonal moments amid the stretches of dead air, but the insights aren’t all that interesting or fresh. The film also has a dated but welcome motif involving Montell Jordan’s 1995 banger “This Is How We Do It,” so just try getting that out of your head once hearing it played three times.

Konkle’s Lex and Fowler’s Mani are most sympathetic and feel like real, grounded people. Rounding out the friend group is self-obsessed Emmy-winning actress Shauna (Robin Thede), who prides herself on footing the bill for everyone and has brought along her micro-dosing windbag husband (Utkarsh Ambudkar) and horny teenage son (Elisha Henig). Then there’s New Age islander couple Josh (Joshua Leonard) and Lindsey (Jillian Bell), who are housing everyone at their resort and desperately want their friends to invest in their timeshare business. Through no fault of the actors who seem game to go even further with the material, most of the other characters feel like sketchy, one-note types reacting to an awkward situation rather than close friends coming together for a wedding. To add more friction, Lex used to be sexually involved with others in the group, including one of the brides, but not much comes of this besides Mia giving Lex the most intense cold shoulder. With all the riffing on display, Bell can’t help but find nuggets of uncomfortably hilarious comedy with her deadpan line delivery as Lindsey, who can consume coke but not chocolate and vents about her troubles in paradise with her “forever-dripping” husband.

Vaguely insufferable characters can often be fun to watch, especially when the ensemble is working with sharp, truthful writing. Just look at both seasons of Mike White’s brilliant “The White Lotus.” As this film goes along, Mani becomes the audience surrogate, walking away from these annoying people and wanting to be anywhere else after a painfully unfunny rehearsal dinner. The viewer might feel the same way, considering the funniest bits involve Mani spending time with the Spanish-speaking locals, despite the language barrier. There is a more provocative and perceptive comedy swimming around in “The Drop,” but as is, the supposed tension only goes so far, and many of the hopeful laughs land with a thud (no pun intended). At least the cast and crew got a tropical vacation out of it, and no babies were actually harmed in the making.

Grade: C

Hulu is dropping “The Drop” (92 min.) on Hulu on January 13, 2023.