Contemporary filmmakers are nothing if not risk takers. From death-taunting stunts to unsimulated sex, whistleblowing attempts and dangerously controversial political statements, there’s virtually nothing a director won’t put in their film. But in the century-plus since the first moving picture hit the big screen, few filmmakers have been gutsy enough to have their first act include a newborn baby being dropped onto cold, hard concrete—which simultaneously makes Sarah Adina Smith’s The Drop one of recent cinema’s biggest revelations and biggest disappointments.
The Drop starts strong. Impressively strong, in fact. In the midst of trying for their first baby, happily married couple Lex (Anna Konkle) and Mani (Jermaine Fowler) travel to Puerto Vallarta to celebrate their friend Mia’s (Aparna Nancherla) marriage to Peggy (Jennifer Lafleur). The gang’s flight to Mexico contains cheeky echoes of the iconic pre-bachelorette party scene in Bridesmaids, and confidently assures us that we are in for an easily entertaining, delightfully dysfunctional destination comedy a la Girls Trip or the Hangover franchise. Then the plane lands, and Smith dials things up to ten.
As the friends catch up outside the airport, Mia and Peggy hand Mani their newborn. It’s a moment of unbridled bliss for the aspiring dad. Background noise fades; music swells. Lex then asks if she can have a turn with the chubby-cheeked kiddo, and he readily hands her over. This is the future mother of his children, after all!
And then, something gob-smackingly, eye-wideningly shocking happens. Lex becomes momentarily distracted, and the baby slips through her arms and lands on the pavement with a dull, cracking thud that echoes in your ears long after the title card is slapped dramatically and hilariously onto the screen.
From that moment on, the drop turns—or at least attempts to turn—into the catalyst for all of the characters’ insecurities to emerge in full bloom, and for its relationships to quickly unravel and deteriorate. One character becomes increasingly gun-obsessed. A couple argues about whether they are capable of dropping a baby. A burgeoning meninist tween is upgraded to full misogynist status.
At the center of it all are Lex and Mani. Deep cracks start to emerge in their relationship, all of which are a version of a central question: Does Lex actually want to be a mother? Sadly, cracks also start to appear in the quality of The Drop just about as soon as they materialize in its core relationships.
As with any ensemble piece, The Drop’s success relies on its characters, and for the most part, they are largely ineffective—much of which has to do with the central friend group coming across as an ill-fitted hodgepodge of eccentrics with little to nothing in common. There’s the vapid actress, the hippie dippies, the aggressively cliched “sex positive” parents, and so on. Most of them make no sense within the context of the film’s larger themes and, more than anything, feel like they originated from the filmmakers saying, “You know who would be a hilarious character?” To make matters worse, the group’s shared history is largely unclear, which makes it even harder to care about their supposed connections or grasp any semblance of relatability.
It doesn’t help, either, that some of the core performances leave something to be desired. Mani, for example, is a man of few words—a tough trick to pull off, given that he goes through the most change and crisis throughout the film. Fowler lacks the subtlety required to convey so much with so little. What results is a lot of shots capturing a blank expression. Other performances land on the opposite end of the scale: Robin Thede plays actress Shauna’s influencer tropes in tiresome broad strokes; Susan Sullivan similarly leans into the cloying, grandchild-hungry mom stereotype, encouraging Mani and Lex to get to bangin’ with an implausible level of enthusiasm. But not every performance in The Drop is a misfire. Konkle is tender and gentle, wearing each of her characters’ conflicting feelings and doubts on her sleeve, painting an endlessly sympathetic picture of an accidental baby-dropper. Bell also stands out, as she so often does, carrying the weight of almost every single one of the film’s laugh-out-loud punchlines on her shoulders.
The scattered performances are indicative of The Drop’s larger issue: It simply doesn’t know what tone it wants to convey. What starts as a tightly wound dark satire quickly unravels into a loose, directionless drama. In fact, much of the film’s dialogue was improvised, which is a technique totally at odds with the film’s prickly, air-tight premise—a high concept that is anything but vague and loose. This hangout vibe is also jarring when taking into account the film’s positioning as a scathing social commentary. Your biting critique of toxic masculinity might not land as hard if your performers are feeling it out take after take. The Drop’s meandering 90 minutes are entertaining enough, but they’ll inevitably have you wishing that it really was as bold as dropping a baby on the concrete.
Director: Sarah Adina Smith
Writers: Joshua Leonard, Sarah Adina Smith
Stars: Anna Konkle, Jermaine Fowler, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Jillian Bell, Joshua Leonard, Jennifer Lafleur, Aparna Nancherla
Release Date: January 13, 2022 (Hulu)
Aurora Amidon is a film journalist and passionate defender of Hostel: Part II. Follow her on Twitter for her latest questionable culture takes.