For three seasons on HBO's Girls, Adam Driver's Adam Sackler has been entangled in a toxic, consuming, and unstable relationship with Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham). Sure, Sackler has allowed Driver to show off his range: immense kindness when Hannah has a breakdown, anger when she won't give him space, and genuine and justified frustration at any given time in response to Hannah's behavior. But all of that is dependent on Hannah; Sackler doesn't exist without her. In Driver's three upcoming films that recently played at the Toronto International Film Festival — This Is Where I Leave You, While We're Young, and Hungry Hearts — he proves he can do much more than play off of someone else. He's the one who set the tone.
Though the 30-year-old actor has taken on other notable supporting roles since the public first met — and loved to loathe, or just plain loathed — Adam Sackler (Al in Inside Llewyn Davis, Lev in Frances Ha, and Allan in What If?), the film adaptation of Jonathan Tropper's popular novel This Is Where I Leave You — which had its world premiere at TIFF and opens nationwide on Sept. 19 — proves he can establish himself among such a large and much more seasoned cast.
Though Tropper's story centers on Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) as he tries to piece his life back together after finding his wife in bed with his boss and then, in a matter of weeks, dealing with his father's death, it's the complicated relationship between the four Altman siblings that's the heart of the film. Judd, Phillip, Tina Fey's Wendy, and Corey Stoll's Paul are forced to reunite under the same roof for a week to sit shiva, a custom the nonreligious, but Jewish family is unfamiliar with, but does so to honor the final wish of their deceased dad.
As Phillip, the youngest of the four Altman siblings, Driver first appears racing up to his dad's funeral (late) in a Porsche. It's difficult not to think about Sackler when looking at sloppy, immature, reckless, and selfish Phillip. He's certainly similar to the initial version of Hannah's on-again-off-again boyfriend Girls fans were first introduced to in Season 1. But before the funeral is over, Sackler is nearly forgotten.
Positioned between ensemble veterans like Fey and Bateman, Driver isn't overshadowed. In fact, he's the one viewers' eyes are drawn to. In one of This Is Where I Leave You's most hilarious moments of (albeit substance-induced) levity, it's Driver's clowning around that is most appreciated, even while sharing the frame with Arrested Development's Bateman.
And Driver is also behind one of the movie's sweetest moments in which Phillip and Judd escape the hectic Altman home and take a drive in the Porsche. Phillip speeds hastily down the street, seemingly unconcerned with his surroundings, until Judd finally convinces him to stop the car so he can move into the driver's seat. But Phillip drives off before Judd can even finish closing his door behind him. What at first seems like a signature dick move is actually the opposite — Phillip knew exactly where he was going the whole time, intentionally stranding his brother directly in front of his crush Penny's (Rose Byrne) place of work. When he returns an hour later to pick Judd up, Driver plays Phillip with the perfect mix of smugness, pride, and kindness, without saying a word. And he gets the last laugh.
In Noah Baumbach's While We're Young, which A24 acquired after its premiere at TIFF, Driver also stands out among his veteran co-stars. Documentarian Josh (Ben Stiller) and his film producer wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts) find themselves at a crossroads when, in their mid-forties, everyone (but them) is having children. By a seemingly chance encounter, Josh meets aspiring documentarian Jamie (Adam Driver) and ice cream maker Darby (Amanda Seyfried), a married, free-spirited couple 20 years their junior, striking up an unlikely friendship. The younger couple introduces Josh and Cornelia to their eccentric activities — like, spending a Sunday taking a hallucinogen with a shaman and puking up their "sins" — and soon, they find themselves swapping their blazers and blouses for distressed leather jackets, fedoras, and vintage dresses. As Josh and Cornelia's peers are attending Mommy and Me classes and spending weekends in Connecticut, Josh, Cornelia, Jamie, and Darby are taking hip-hop classes and walking through train track tunnels under construction.
Like This Is Where I Leave You's Phillip, Jamie is the most brazen of the (albeit very different) quartet. He's constantly speaking with exaggerated facial expressions and gigantic hand motions, he rejects modern technology — refusing to look up facts on his phone and instead waiting (even days) until he can recall something from memory — and he always clasps his hands together and bows when he greets or thanks someone. But he's also aggressive, suddenly and unwarrantedly screaming at a cyclist riding by, and manipulative, secretly using a handheld remote to operate the camera he's put Josh behind after the two decide to work on a documentary together.
Jamie is perhaps the most complex character audiences have seen Driver step into thus far. He constantly appears calm and collected, but Driver carefully hints at Jamie's suave and conniving nature that is simultaneously bubbling up beneath the surface. He is essentially playing a part within a part, constantly trying to keep his true motives from those around him. And in Driver's hands, it's easy to see how Jamie would be able to masterfully manipulate those around him. Like This Is Where I Leave You, While We're Young solidifies the fact that Driver can successfully play not just a rebel, but a rebel with a cause.
But it's Saverio Costanzo's Hungry Hearts where Driver is truly pushed beyond anything he's done before — and it's also where shines the most. The movie, which was acquired by Radiant Films International, revolves around Jude (Adam Driver) and Mina (Alba Rohrwacher), newlyweds with a newborn son.
Mina is mentally unstable and doesn't trust doctors, the combination of which puts their baby in harm's way. Jude, in love with Mina but also in love with his son, is torn between respecting her wishes and getting the child the proper care he needs. And even until the bitter end, Jude tries desperately to care for both his wife and his child, no matter how impossible both battles get. Eventually, he sneaks behind his wife's back to try to find out what is wrong with their child so has not to upset her, but he also confronts her with fury.
With the exception of some minor supporting characters in very few scenes, the camera literally and tightly — the shots are nearly all extreme close-ups — follows Mina and Jude through the intense drama. It'd be difficult for Driver to hide anything from the audience, but he stays completely true to Jude throughout the entirety of the film. There isn't a trace of Adam Sackler in Jude and it's easy to see why Driver took home the Best Actor award for his performance in Hungry Hearts at the Venice Film Festival earlier this year. It's easily the most intense character Driver has played and he does so seamlessly. Jude is loving and gentle, while also strong and intense. Driver plays Jude, pained, vulnerably, and expertly, showcasing passion, but maintaining restraint. His complete emotional breakdown at the film's conclusion feels so genuine, it's as difficult to watch as it is impressive.
With material as dark as Hungry Hearts, a character as cunning as his in While We're Young, and sharing screentime with a cast as accomplished as that of This Is Where I Leave You, Driver is proving just how much he is capable of. And even though he will go back to Brooklyn as Adam Sackler for Girls' fourth season (and perhaps beyond), his three TIFF movies allow audiences and Hollywood to see that he can do more than just play off those around him: He can steal scenes.