“The Drop” announces itself with promise and a fine note of unease, thanks to a surprisingly contrapuntal score that signals the darker intentions of director Sarah Adina Smith’s comedy, which is set in motion by an accident that reveals young marrieds Lex and Mani’s anxieties about parenthood — and, perhaps, each other.
Far below an aerial shot, jade-green waves crest and unfurl to the swelling and swirling notes of an orchestra. The patterns are mesmerizing, shape-shifting from recognizable into what might resemble a spider’s web or a membrane (the sort you might see in a sci-fi movie with a fetus floating in uterine tissue). From this beautiful, extended image, cut to Lex (“Pen15” star Anna Konkle) and Mani (Jermaine Fowler) making love and, fingers crossed and sperm willing, a baby.
More from Variety
It’s a bold and amusing veer in tone, intended to signal both the weight and wit to come. Only Smith, working from a screenplay she wrote with Joshua Leonard, never quite rides those waves to either perfect laughs or the intriguing blend of genre she’s pulled off in her previous films “Buster’s Mal Heart” and “The Midnight Swim.” It’s not for lack of ambition and craft. Both the cinematography (by Shaheen Seth) and Ellen Reid’s music affirm Smith’s more consequential gestures. It’s the comedy of “The Drop” that falls short.
With their friskiness and easy repartee, the seemingly in-sync pair of Mani and Lex are humorous about her ovulation cycles. They own a Los Angeles bakery. They dig each other. And, while Mani would like to go to his mother’s birthday in Brooklyn, he’s willing to forego it to support Lex at the nuptials of friends Mia (Aparna Nancherla), a lawyer, and Peggy (Jennifer Lafleur), a gynecologist.
Shauna, another friend and an Emmy-amassing actor (played by Robin Thede), is footing the bill for the destination wedding at yet another friend-couple’s beachside resort in Mexico. Joshua Leonard and Jillian Bell are Josh and Lindsey, the struggling-to-stay hip and solvent ex-pats. Utkarsh Ambudkar is Robbie, Shauna’s complimentarily narcissistic husband. Shauna’s teenaged son, Levi (Elisha Henig), tags along, sporting the right amount of peach fuzz to suggest an appropriately randy puberty and exhibiting a goodly interest in porn and online vlogging that hints at pre-incel tendencies.
The title refers to the disastrous handoff of Mia and Peggy’s infant. At the curb of the airport, Mani dreamily gazes at the baby he’s just delivered into Lex’s embrace. Sickening thud. As the press notes state endearingly, and Peggy says quickly upon returning from the infirmary, “She’s okay.” Which might have been the end of it were not it a baby that had dropped and were we — characters and audience alike — not trained to read for subconscious intent in minor slips of the tongue, let alone an actual kid hitting the pavement.
Baby Ani’s accident turns into a muted referendum on what kind of a parent — but more vitally, mother — Lex would make. Smith says she came upon the idea thinking about “Force Majeure,” the tart Swedish film from 2014 in which a father bolts as an avalanche bears down on him and his family during a ski vacation. What courage is to fatherhood in that film, the will to nurture is to motherhood here.
Lex and Mani are attuned enough to one another’s moods to know something significant just occurred, but not quite sure why. So, Mani calls his mother (Monnae Michaell) and Lex makes up an especially flimsy cause for the mishap.
“The Drop” is the second American comedy to take inspiration from director Ruben Östlund’s film. The U.S. adaptation “Downhill,” starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell, offered a cautionary reason why the insights of that film might get lost in translation: We like our laughs to go big, our slapstick to swat gravitas. That may be why, though the ensemble is gifted here, the other couples feel too fabricated. (Another hurdle may be the comedy’s proximity to HBO’s “White Lotus,” which is all about indelible characters unfolding — or is it unraveling? — over time.)
These people don’t seem much like friends, or even old friends who’ve grown distant. That Lex and Mia were once a couple, and that Mia wants Lex to write her and Peggy’s vows feels like something from a different, broader romantic comedy.
“The Drop” is smarter than it is funny. As sympathetic as Konkle and Fowler are as the beset couple, had the film leaned into its intelligence more, trusting its bleak comedy and affording its other characters a little emotional wiggle room, it may have achieved a more perfect coupling of each.
“The Drop” premieres on Hulu on Jan. 13, 2023.
Best of Variety