From a certain angle, 2022 could be seen as the year of satire. There spectrum was vast, from the “high-brow,” like Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’Or-winning Triangle of Sadness, to Halina Reijn’s extremely mid Gen Z send-up in Bodies Bodies Bodies, to the lackluster mockumentary Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul from Adamma Ebo. Heading into 2023, given the state of our global present, one can only expect more, but in this second week of January, writer/director Sarah Adina Smith has already delivered what will hopefully be the worst: The Drop.
Smith’s oeuvre is rich in the offbeat, the uncomfortable, the questioning. Buster’s Mal Heart (2016) features Rami Malek interrogating reality, while her most recent effort, Birds of Paradise (2021), opts for something you might call “spooky ballet.” It makes some sense then, given her willingness to move through various modes, that Smith would venture into the world of cringe comedy with her next feature. The Drop seeks to satirize modern relationships; from a particular perspective, you could argue it’s attacking the wokeness of today’s notions of parenthood, but that’s a slow-witted response. The film isn’t dumb — the quips are quick — but the problem is, quite simply and quite fatally, that it’s just not… funny.
Lex (Anna Konkle) and Mani (Jermaine Fowler) head to Mexico for a destination wedding. Along for the ride are several couple friends, including the betrothed, Peggy (Jennifer Lafleur) and Mia (Aparna Nancherla), as well as Lindsey (the always-game Jillian Bell) and Josh (Joshua Leonard), and the Emmy-winning actress who’s footing the bill for the whole thing, Shauna (Robin Thede) and her husband Robbie (Utkarsh Ambudkar). Populated by that cast of comedy welterweights, viewers could reasonably expect The Drop to go either way — will this be the kind of film to ride its underdog status to unexpected delight, or will it be crushed under the punches of a too-heavy script. Unfortunately for everyone, it’s the latter.
When Lex enacts the eponymous drop, causing Peggy and Mia’s baby to fall to the ground (she’s okay, by the way), life as they all know it is over. Mani begins to question if Lex can possibly make a good mother after such a grave mistake, while Lex realizes she’s unsure if she even wants children. And that’s only the beginning — a lot is happening. The cast does their best with the material they’ve been handed, but that mostly works to highlight the film’s deficiencies; for instance, Bell and Konkle, who are known for cringe comedy favorites Workaholics and Pen15, respectively, aren’t given anything to chew on here that approaches their memorable work in those series. The film does rise to almost funny during a pre-wedding party where each person gives a performance dedicated to the bride and bride. Over-the-top acting from Shauna and a straight-up depressing song from Lex and Mani are the closest to cringey the movie ever gets, and still elicit barely a snort from even a generous audience.
Setting aside the film’s failures of comedy for a second, Smith does get a few things right. As in her other features, she effectively creates a sense of foreboding and apprehension, both pre- and post-drop: the crashing waves and ominous score marking the film’s opening images, the contrast between the hospital’s clinical bleakness and the resort’s easy beauty. And oddly enough, the film’s earnest, even sentimental, beats hit harder than any of its attempts at humor, leaving one to wonder if The Drop would have been more successful with someone else behind the pen. But a few littered strengths can’t compensate for the film’s failures of design — it tilts toward barbed commentary, but only musters flaccidity. Both satire and cringe comedy are meant to challenge viewers, but all The Drop manages to challenge is the audience’s patience.