I had high hopes for The Late Bloomer. It’s a story with a unique spin on the whole horny-teen sex comedy genre. That formula is pretty simple: Teens in high school want to have sex and high jinx ensue trying to make that a reality. This, however, is about a 30-something-year-old man who finds out a brain tumor pressed up against his pituitary glad prevented him from ever going through puberty.
How would a adult male handle puberty and all the fun that comes with it? I assumed sensibly, since Dr. Pete Newmans (Johnny Simmons) is smarter — he’s a successful sex therapist whose practice is almost completely devoted to helping people re-channel their sexual impulses — than almost all teenagers. When he gets acne or goes through mood swings as a result of the influx of hormones that have been suppressed for years, I assumed his adult mind would have kicked in and told him to act like an adult and not a petulant teenager. I was wrong.
The movie is based on factual events, and maybe the real Pete Newmans acted this way. But I think the jokes fall flat because of Simmons, not because of the material. Throughout the film, I kept thinking what if a comedic actor was cast instead of Simmons? He’s not a bad actor by any means, but his timing felt off and he didn’t loo comfortable doing some of the things he was required to do.
Two scenes in particular stick out with that thought. At a basketball game with friends Rich (Kumail Nanjiani) and Luke (Beck Bennett), Pete gets hit in the groin with the basketball. He’s taken to the hospital and this leads to the discovery of the tumor. He and his friends suck at basketball. Bunch of middle-age men not playing well isn’t funny because it’s predictable. The scene would’ve worked better if they were actually good because that would have been unexpected. A couple weeks later, Pete is back on the court, this time schooling everyone and talking trash. We see no practicing in between those two scenes so we’re just supposed to assume that testosterone made him a better player? Also, this man is not intimidating. He looks uncomfortable trying to be a badass.
The second scene is his date with cute neighbor Michelle (Brittany Snow). Because of his condition, he’s never had the urge to have sex or been on many dates. When he finally has one, he takes the advice of a teenager who lives in his apartment building. Not his adult friends, a teenager who often comes to him for women advice. So, already, the advice should be suspect. The kid tells him to be a jerk cause that’s what women love (psh, no they don’t). The date bombs and he blows his chances.
If it weren’t for a poor lead performance, I’d be more insistent you see this film because Kumail Nanjiani, Beck Bennett, and J.K. Simmons — who plays a father almost as funny as his turn in Juno — are all hilarious. Kumail has been on a role lately with great supporting roles or cameos in Hello, My Name Is Doris, The Grinder, and Central Intelligence, just to name a few. His chemistry with Beck is something deserving of a solo movie. Why are these two complete opposites friends is just one of the many questions I’d like to have answered about these two in their own movie.
The film is based on Ken Baker‘s book The Late Bloomer: A Memoir of My Body which, I can only assume is more entertaining than the film version. The film also marks the narrative directorial debut of Kevin Pollak. See it for the supporting characters, but know you’ll probably get frustrated at Pete and his poor decisions and the actor who plays him who looks like he would rather be somewhere else.