Nasty Baby

***

Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

A gay couple try to have a baby with the help of their best friend, Polly. The trio navigates the idea of creating life while confronted by unexpected harassment from a neighbourhood man called The Bishop. As their clashes grow increasingly aggressive, odds are that someone will get hurt.
"It either, depending on how open you are to it, completely goes off the rails in the final 20 minutes and destroys its credibility, or instead delivers a provocative moral twist"

For most of the running time, writer/director Sebastian Silva’s (Crystal Fairy and Magic Magic) Nasty Baby plays like a dance between a lightly funny critique of middle-class New York hipster lifestyles, and a study of the pressures of raising a child in an ‘alternative’ living situation. Then it either, depending on how open you are to it, completely goes off the rails in the final 20 minutes and destroys its credibility, or instead delivers a provocative moral twist that encourages you to re-examine everything you saw before.

Maybe if you look closer at the first two-thirds of the film, which deals with the dramas of a gay couple - artist Freddy (Silva) and his boyfriend Mo (Tunde Adebimpe) who are preparing to have a baby with Freddy’s best friend Polly (Kristen Wiig) - you will find the seeds of the film’s later curveball. At first, what we seem to have on our hands is a politically correct indie drama about a ‘post-racial’ gay pregnancy scenario where Mo and Freddy have to negotiate things like Freddy’s lack of motile sperm (which has resulted in attention falling on Mo to step up and donate) and Mo’s conservative family who live out in the suburbs; some of whom still harbour the belief that Mo’s sexuality is a lifestyle choice.

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But at the same time, the film also seems to be taking a poke at the lifestyles of the New York chattering classes. The truth is that, over time, Freddy, Mo and Polly really start to grate. They and their friends are effortlessly privileged and dress exactly as New York hipsters should: faux-grungy, plenty of hats, everyone has a ukulele or a guitar to hand and lives in cute brownstones with classical stoops. Ironic appreciation is the order of the day (Polly is struggling to learn the crooner tune “Love will find you in the end”) and everyone speaks in that laid-back, slightly bored tone. Freddy’s art project, a video riffing on birth and childhood, is ludicrously “arty”, its pretentiousness outmatched only by the gallery owner he tries to pitch it to, who demands they consult “the oracle”, a piece of sculpture, to see if it is suitable.

Lightly scathing though the film seems to be about all this “New Yorkness”, there are some quite urgent cares and concerns for the main trio. Beyond the looming pregnancy and lack of work, Freddy’s visa is at risk, while Polly fears she is getting too old to get pregnant at all. But flashes of something more ugly start to creep in; a middle class casualness about brutality and ignorance of the consequences. This is showcased by Freddy, whom Mo is always half-jokingly saying needs anger management issues, escalating his actions in response to the disruptions to their lives caused by local resident Bishop, a man clearly suffering some kind of mental disorder. Freddy can’t stand Bishop’s constant blaring of his leaf blower every morning, and his aggressive interventions into everyone’s personal space, usually while bellowing out homophobic epithets. Provocative though Bishop is, what Freddy ends up doing in response is what sets Nasty Baby off on its last act jump.

The last few minutes will almost certainly be too much for some, even if it does encourage a reconsideration of the rest of the film, calling into question what kind of people these and what any given person with these privileges and hopes might be capable of doing to protect what they have built. To get there, though, means spending a substantial amount of time being mostly irritated by these arrogant and unconsciously entitled people (even if the acting is fine overall). The rough-and-ready, hand-held cinematography is also distracting, though you could suspect Silva knows this and is simply satirising the kind of indie camerawork you expect from low-budget Sundance bait, on top of everything else. There is a delicious delight in seeing Silva sticking it to a presumably liberal audience, but the knife twist comes almost too late in the film to cut deep.

Reviewed on: 16 Oct 2015
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A gay couple try to have a baby with the help of their best friend... but trouble lies ahead.
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