Nothing puts a relationship to the test like going on vacation together. Or, in the case of “The Drop,” a destination wedding. Director and co-writer Sarah Adina Smith (“Birds of Paradise,” “Buster’s Mal Heart”) cranks up the cringe comedy dial by turning what should be a celebratory event into a nightmare, putting at least one couple’s future in jeopardy. While this sounds relatively paint-by-numbers, the unexpected accident that causes this rupture (well, unexpected if you haven’t seen the trailer or read the premise) delivers a fresh perspective. However, a strong ensemble cast can’t combat this film’s uneven story and disjointed outcome.
READ MORE: ‘The Drop’ Trailer: Anna Konkle, Jermaine Fowler & Jillian Bell Can’t Take Back Dropping Their Friend’s Baby
In “The Drop,” “Pen15” co-creator and star Anna Konkle plays the seemingly successful Lex, who owns an artisanal bakery in Los Angeles while working as a writer on the side (ticking off not one but two rom-com careers). With her friends Mia (Aparna Nacherla) and Peggy’s (Jennifer Lafleur) wedding on the horizon, Lex has two tasks: make and transport their wedding cake to a paradise island and write the couple’s vows. On top of her multiple wedding responsibilities, Lex also wants to start a family with her husband, Mani (Jermaine Fowler). Suffice it to say there are a lot of external and internal pressures on Lex before an unfortunate incident occurs.
And then the unfortunate occurs. Much like the family patriarch’s sudden shameful actions in “Force Majeure,” when Lex drops Mia and Peggy’s baby on the concrete outside the airport, almost everyone takes it as more than just an isolated, accidental moment. For those who witness the accident, the spotlight now shines on Lex, as well as on her relationship and history with the couple about to wed. So why did Lex drop that baby? Did a bee sting her? Or is there a deeper, more disturbing reason why Lex let go of the child? In Freudian terms, there are no accidents here, and “The Drop” spends its runtime letting its character exhaust the possibilities.
After the incident, a dark cloud hangs over the film’s idyllic location that proves hard to shake. Characters who try to comfort Lex, but can’t do so without an element of moral superiority. That all sounds rather bleak, but the execution of “The Drop” mixes the right amount of narcissism, denial, self-flagellation, and dark humor to avoid anything too traumatic. And the film also balances its others themes of parenthood and upbringing well. Four couples, baby Ani, and teenager Levi (Elisha Henig) make up the wedding party. Pairing a vacation comedy with nuptials offers a heightened environment to explore different stages of parenthood, the various anxieties that come with making that commitment, and how having a child changes a person—or doesn’t.
It’s an affluent group at the wedding, too, including successful actress Shauna (Robin Thede) and her husband Robbie (Utkarsh Ambudkar), who never let the group forget their impressive connections. Let the name-dropping commence. Shauna and Robbie’s parenting style toward their adopted son Levi is very hands-off (think an evolution of Amy Poehler’s “Mean Girls” Cool Mom), which supplies Henig plenty of moments to show why some element of involvement is not a bad thing. The young actor previously proved his adeptness at playing teens prone to speaking to an online audience in “Mythic Quest.” He steals every moment as a character who—somewhat predictably—leans toward incel culture.
Jillian Bell and Joshua Leonard (co-writers of the film) round out the group as married couple Lindsey and Josh, who try to turn their luxury island real estate into a must-stay location, leading to repeat awkward investment pitches to their wealthy pals. Unfortunately, they pepper their attempts to lighten the mood and get everyone in the vacation spirit with passive-aggressive comments and references to past transgressions. An ongoing joke about Lex’s dating history within the social circle doesn’t land, and it’s one of the film’s several underdeveloped plot points. At times, it’s hard to see why Lex and Mani remain friends with people who constantly flex their superiority or holier-than-thou lifestyle. Along with Lindsey and Josh’s liberal double standards and cultural appropriation, it’s a surprise that Lex isn’t fed up with everyone even before the drops the baby.
Creating tension within Lex and Mani’s relationship via this accident offers an opportunity to explore the swirling emotions that come with a couple trying to conceive. The opening scene puts both characters on the same page, but doubts creep in poisonously after Lex’s transgression. It leads to a debate within the group—and no doubt with viewers—about whether accidents like this are common and have a deeper meaning. It’s not only the millennial perspective on display as the couple (separately) calls their moms to discuss the unfortunate incident. People make mistakes, yet something about Lex dropping baby Ani hits a raw nerve attached to everyone’s fears about parenting.
“The Drop” is most effective when it explores Lex and Mani’s immediate reactions as they grapple with the event’s implications and underlying, unspoken issues. Konkle and Fowler capture the complexities of a seemingly happy marriage under the pressure of planning to start a family. More broadly, Smith’s movie deftly makes a case for how couples may compromise as they discuss both the big and small-picture elements that make a relationship work. Timing is one factor, and open communication is another. The breakdown of the latter leads to some funny moments, but it also contributes to the film’s often disjointed pacing.
The film’s reliance on improvisation also keeps Smith’s film from being tighter. In a recent interview on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” Fowler said “The Drop” only had a script outline as it headed into shooting. So, yes, while this is a talented and hilarious cast, its gags only feel underbaked, out of the blue, or overly repetitive. It’s impossible to fault the ensemble’s chemistry, with several scene-stealing moments—particularly from the blissfully unaware couple played by Thede and Ambudkar—but the script’s looseness hampers the film’s flow in a way laugh-out-loud interactions can’t save. Even with its compelling cringe comedy set-up, the freedom of improv sometimes leaves the cast unmoored. Some conversations tying back to shared history fall flat, often blowing the wind out of this comedy’s sails entirely.
Mike White didn’t invent B-roll footage of crashing waves to symbolize themes in “The White Lotus.” However, White skillfully uses them to amp up the brewing tension between his vacationers in Sicily. Mother Nature performs a similar function in “The Drop,” particularly for Mani and Lex. While this movie never reaches the thematic depths of “The White Lotus,” and that show’s exploration of unspoken fears and desires, it does get to the heart of the anxiety of parenthood while figuring out everything else life throws your way. This film works better as a character study between the lead couple, as everyone else ends up as a caricature of an archetype. Unfortunately, a solid premise and an appealing cast get bogged down in “The Drop,” and the film ends ups dropping the ball—and the baby.[C+]