An inventively disturbing life of the mind is camouflaged by cheerful wholesomeness in “Baby Done”, a low key comedy that flirts with big themes.
Zoe and Tim are partners in life and work, a young New Zealand couple in their thirties with plenty to look forward to. They are amused and horrified by the journey their peers have embarked on – house, marriage, “baby done”, and when they are invited to their friends’ baby shower, they behave like teenagers rather than adult guests. And why not?
Biology gets in the way. When Zoe realises she is pregnant, she is already 27 weeks down the road. Perhaps she had been previously, completely unconsciously, in denial. Perhaps not. But now she is. Very much.” Tapeworm can produce false-positive pregnancy tests”, she tells her medic when her new reality is confirmed. “No, they can’t”, she is told. “Yes they can”, Zoe insists.
One of the pleasures of this charming film turns out to be the deadpan yes/no dialogues that punctuate it, and Rose Matafeo as Zoe and Matthew Lewis as Tim are excellent and believable as goofy and stolidly cheerful young adults closer to their teenage years than to midlife and parenthood.
Zoe’s new reality is one that gets in the way of both concrete plans and less concrete thoughts. Her most immediate priority is to continue her work as a tree surgeon. Her next and highly pressing priority is to fly to Canada and compete in an international tree climbing championship, heights and long flights no object. Well, again, why not?
The validity of those ambitions is not in question, whether they are metaphors for something else or not. But why are they now such compulsions in the face of physical danger? Zoe embarks on the road of deceit, lying to her partner, lying to her best friend, and lying to herself, as E.M. Forster once remarked of another rebellious heroine.
Tim realises Zoe is pregnant one day just as they are about to bungee jump off a high platform. There is no sense in the story of Zoe wishing to lose her pregnancy – it’s just that she doesn’t think of herself as being pregnant. Yet, when she is out drinking with a friend, she does surreptitiously throw away her tequila shot.
At one point, Zoe mutters “I’ve forgotten how to be me”, and not “I am afraid I will forget to be me”. There is some dissonance in that, since she is actively engaged in that fight to remain “me”.
While Zoe remains at odds with fate and body, Tim finds himself panicking in the opposite direction – he readies himself to be a father while worrying that he doesn’t know how to be one. He also finds himself very tentatively trying to assert control over Zoe, in an attempt to protect a pregnancy fast approaching term, but finds he has no appetite or inclination for patriarchy and is too loyal to blow the whistle.
Meanwhile, Zoe finds ever more inventive and original ways to circumvent events. In addition to the attempted bungee jump and a high tree-climbing episode, she arranges a couple of encounters with an amiable coffee-drinking preggophile who turns out to be banned from the local mother-and-baby store, and manipulatively engineers a threesome with her best friend Molly and an unwitting Tim – for ends very much of her own.
This all this seems to hint at a certain darkness. In real life, experimenting with people’s deep desires and feelings, without their consent, tends to get complicated, but the film itself resolutely does not go there. It seems to also run away from the interesting things in Zoe’s head that result in her doing interesting things in life, in contravention of the usual social norms. Zoe’s avoidance tactics are transgressive and unsettling beyond their great comedic value. Is she then far more disturbed than the film lets on? Or is “Baby Done” not addressing head-on the thoughts it raises?
The script, written by Sophie Henderson, is strong, and it is intriguing – there is another film in it, more tonally complex – think of Alice Lowe’s “Prevenge”. “Baby Done”, as it is, is a film that works hard to remain a lightweight comedy, and in the main succeeds in that – but what if it had owned its transgressions and ventured into greater degrees of light and dark?
Directed by Curtis Vowell
Written by Sophie Henderson
With Rose Matafeo, Matthew Lewis, Emily Barclay, Nic Sampson