Dir: Curtis Vowell. Starring: Rose Matafeo, Matthew Lewis, Emily Barclay, Rachel House, Nic Sampson, Madeleine Sami, Matenga Ashby, Loren Taylor. 15, 91 mins
There’s a common saying that being a parent is like living with your heart outside of your body. No one ever stops to consider what an odd, morbid idea that is – the picture of a still-pumping organ careening around your living room, shooting blood up the walls and on the floors. But it’s the balm that Penny (Loren Taylor) tries to offer her daughter Zoe (Rose Matafeo) when she’s trapped in a mid-pregnancy anxiety spiral. It’s one of the many freakouts that colour Curtis Vowell’s disarmingly funny, emotionally truthful Baby Done.
It’s not that Zoe doesn’t want a baby. It’s that, as she puts it, “I just don’t want to turn into a mum.” They all seem like such dreadful bores – friends only with other parents, all spewing sickly, wholesome platitudes about how lucky they are and what a cherished role they now fulfill. There’s no spontaneity in their lives, no spark of adventure. She reassures her boyfriend Tim (Matthew Lewis) that the two of them are “wild people”, which doesn’t gel with the constant need to care for a screaming, spluttering thing.
A trip to the doctor – and one positive pregnancy test later – and Zoe is thrown into a peculiar identity crisis: does creating a brand new person mean you become slightly less of one? In Baby Done, Vowell and screenwriter Sophie Henderson, a real-life couple, tackle head-on a semi-taboo topic surrounding parenthood: the quiet terror of becoming permanently attached to someone else, of knowing that this is the point of no return. It’s the sort of thing that’s usually dismissed as selfish. Perhaps it is, but Henderson’s warm and empathetic handling of the material argues that it doesn’t make those feelings any less legitimate.
Baby Done has all the beats of a typical romcom, with a handful of expected, somewhat out-there set-pieces – a catastrophic threesome, public urination, and a meeting with a “preggophile”. But Henderson’s writing allows for even the most absurd incidents to stem from Zoe and Tim’s fears. The only suspension of disbelief required is in just how far their desperation takes them.
It feels particularly insightful to set up a character like Zoe with a partner like Tim. She pushes back against impending parenthood, refusing to attend prenatal classes and remaining intent on travelling to Canada for a tree-climbing competition (the couple are both arborists). He turns the whole thing into an obsession, an endless playlist of homemade birthing videos. But there’s a patriarchal tinge to his concerns, as he insists to Zoe that it is a father’s job to take care of the family.
Lewis ensures his romantic lead is loveable even at his worst, with Lewis lending a wiry energy that makes this a smart post-Potter career turn. The film is produced by Jojo Rabbit’s Taika Waititi and features several familiar faces from his work and the wider New Zealand comedy scene – including Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s Rachel House, What We Do in the Shadows’ Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, and Eagle vs Shark’s Taylor – delightfully sniffy as Zoe’s mother.
But it’s Matafeo, an Edinburgh Comedy Award winner, who really shines here. Her presence feels so effortless that – with every eye roll and conniving smirk – it becomes hard to imagine she’s performing someone else’s material, not simply indulging us in her own thoughts. That’s the beauty of Baby Done. It always manages to reflect something real, even when its main character is stuck in the gap between a toilet cubicle door and the floor.