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New Release Review (VOD) - NASTY BABY

A couple enlists the aid of a female friend for a surrogate pregnancy.




Review by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)

Directed by: Sebastian Silva

Starring: Sebastián Silva, Tunde Adebimpe, Kristen Wiig, Alia Shawkat, Mark Margolis



For a film that could be described as ‘Issue led’, Nasty Baby is completely unsentimental and levelled, never cheapening the plight of Freddy and Mo for an emotional beat. Silva’s confidence in his script and actors construct a true and creditable sense of personality and place.



A riveting entry into a growing cinematic body that takes as its material the social and political decree of LGBT life (see this year’s Freeheld, and 2015’s The Danish Girl), writer/director/star Sebastián Silva’s Nasty Baby focuses on the issue of surrogate pregnancy.

Based on a true story, the plot sees Freddy (Silva), a New York artist, who lives a halcyon village life with his fella Mo (Tunde Adebimpe), wanting more than his lovely cat and nice apartment. In his mid-thirties, Freddy is naturally hankering after a baby of his own, and so, enlisting the help of friend Polly (Kristen Wiig - amazing, as ever), the three collude to make a baby through artificial insemination.


Sound easy? The aforementioned phrase, with the glib connotative convenience of ‘artificial’ (as if the process is a simple substitute for usual conception), does the grim procedure no justice. Nasty Baby, however, renders the course of insemination in all of its cheerless, undignified detail. We discover early that Freddy has a low sperm count, and so Mo has to take up the slack: cue lots of plastic receptacles, joyless masturbation, crushing disappointments. The least you can say about heterosexual fertilisation is that it’s fun trying - for these guys it’s hard work and unending frustration.

However, for a film that could be described as ‘Issue led’, Nasty Baby is completely unsentimental and levelled, never cheapening the plight of Freddy and Mo for an emotional beat. Silva’s confidence in his script and actors construct a true and creditable sense of personality and place. We believe in the characters as people, rather than archetypes, and what’s more, we are encouraged to appreciate and understand their predicament, rather than vicariously sympathise. Freddy and Mo’s everyday, lack of baby notwithstanding, is halcyon; they have a pretty flat which is stylishly weathered in the way all NY apartments should be, and a kindly old queen as a neighbour who offers them cocktail ‘libations’ (Mark Margolis - Hector Salamanca off Breaking Bad, but so lovely here that you will wish he was your gay grandad).


It’s refreshing to see LGBT representation portrayed in such a matter of fact positive manner, and to have gay characters whose sexuality doesn’t define them. Of course, prejudice lingers, with uncomfortable homophobia (in the true sense of the word, meaning irrational anxiety at the very concept) from Mo’s family - ‘how is it going to work?’ a nitwit sister worries - and more conventional approbation (homophobia as a displacement of self-loathing) from Bishop (the great character actor Reg E. Cathey), a mentally ill neighbour who the two strike up an unfortunate feud with.

What intrigues about Nasty Baby is how masterfully Silva draws us in to this world, running a growing sense of unease throughout the proceedings which culminates in the fierce shock of the ending. Part of this agitation is courtesy of Wiig, who plays her character as an unknowable, mercurial presence, and also Cathey, implacable and simmering as his annoying habits, such as blowing leaves at the crack of dawn, gradually escalate.


Without wishing to spoil the final act, Silva’s plot, and darkening atmosphere leads inevitably to a finale that menacingly compounds what has gone before, both in the sense of story and theme. Just as you are beginning to think that Freddy’s life, with his handsome fella, supportive friends and, to the audience, ostensibly awful but mystifying successful art, is a little too easy, Nasty Baby abruptly switches genres into a film that is more Shallow Grave than shallow life, and a true meaning of family and shared responsibility is suggested.

Extras:
A fabulous selection of extras from the curators at WeAreColony.com, leading with a maker’s statement from Sebastián Silva, various interviews with the cast, including a sequence of Wiig and Silva improvising that showcases their chemistry, and extensive cast and crew biographies.

Nasty Baby is available to rent at www.wearecolony.com/nasty-baby from May 30th.

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