Aside from the sudden baby-dropping incident that gives the movie its title, nothing happens in The Drop, a film not to be confused with the 2014 Dennis Lehane adaptation of the same name. To be more precise, The Drop is filled with the kind of “nothing” every Seinfeld episode was about; the sort of nothing commonly at the heart of movies by the Duplass brothers, who produced this film. Characters talk endlessly, and humorously, over-analyzing and presuming rather than actually getting anywhere or making progress. That’s not a criticism. It’s just a fact of this type of comedy.
At one point, protagonist Mani (Sorry to Bother You’s Jermaine Fowler) calls his mother (Monnae Michaell) to ask if dropping a baby is normal; after hedging her bets a bit, she declares it’s “a white people thing.” Though the cast here is pointedly diverse, the entire movie deals with a privilege thing—mainly, the degree to which well-off people with too much free time on their hands have a tendency to believe absolute nonsense, while thinking they’ve discovered divine truth. Everyone’s a version of Cheers’ Cliff Clavin, spouting little-known facts, or at least their best approximations.
A sort of mumblecore riff on the relatively recent spate of “romcoms in paradise” like Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates, Couples Retreat, and even parts of Sonic The Hedgehog 2, The Drop sees Mani and wife Lex (PEN15's Anna Konkle) among several couples summoned to the wedding of new parents Mia (Aparna Nancherla) and Peggy (Jennifer Lafleur). Neither Mani nor Lex particularly wants to go; they’re busy trying to conceive a child and run an ironic coffee shop where the pastries are all labeled “carbs.” But Mia has insisted that Lex write her vows, as Lex was her first same-sex love. In a running gag, we casually discover that Lex has a romantic past with pretty much everyone, male or female, on the trip.
When Lex gets to hold the baby, the drop itself happens off-camera, leaving us to judge the veracity of her claim that a bee made her do it. But the drop itself is almost beside the point, relative to the reactions of everyone to it. New Age doofus Ravi (Utkarsh Ambudkar) proclaims that it instantly makes him hotter for his wife, actress Shauna (Robin Thede), and they both promptly decide they need to write it into their TV show about a female vice president who says things like “Terrorists are people, too!” (Their adopted teen runs an anti-masturbation vlog, where he proclaims “Cum is for courtship!”)
Mia and Peggy’s opposite reactions threaten to drive them apart, as the latter is understanding and the former starts acting more and more violent. And as the host couple who own the Mexican resort, Jillian Bell and Joshua Leonard struggle mightily to change the mood, at one point prompting the latter to yell “Don’t hit me with cilantro!”
Directed by Sarah Adina Smith (Buster’s Mal Heart), and written by Smith with Leonard, a frequent Duplass collaborator and Blair Witch alumnus, The Drop goes through the usual sort of skewerings you’d expect, from fad diets, social-media influencing, narcissistic one-woman shows, and the way hip-hop is now the soundtrack to the lives of so many middle-aged lame-os, to more modern concerns like Joe Rogan-style libertarianism and concept restaurants. Through it all, Mani is the closest thing to an audience surrogate, having the same sorts of reactions to the craziness that we might have. So when he eventually gets nutty too, it’s a bit of a disappointment, and a crucial loss of a rudder for the movie. To paraphrase The Incredibles’ Syndrome, if everyone’s a weird navel-gazer, maybe no one is?
Last year’s Pretty Problems executed the concept a bit better, making it clearer that its pompous rich characters were trying to fill a void by being exploitative. By contrast, the couples in The Drop are just self-obsessed. We’re meant to feel that Mani and Lex have come out of their interactions with these folks the stronger for it, but instead they still seem just as insufferable in their own way. That’s not to say anyone in the story has to be likable, but relating to any of their troubles might provide a stronger audience hook for a script that otherwise feels a lot like improv.
Defenders of shows like Lost and The Walking Dead against charges that they were neglecting the central premise tended to say something like “It’s not about the [sci-fi thing], it’s about the characters!” Likewise, The Drop isn’t really about dropping a baby. But it’s not about much else, either.