To Kid or Not to Kid


Maxine Trump and Megan Turner share a moment.

(2018) Documentary (Helpman) Maxine Trump, Megan Turner, Josh Granger, Karen Malone Wright, Marcia Drut-Davis, Jane Kevers, Douglas Stein, Mandy Harvey, Tim Belcher, Victoria Elder, Juniper Melnicoff, Andy Williams, Lesley Melnicoff, Leon Wojciechowski, Dutch Yardley, Cynthia Yardley, Dawn Bowker, Bryan Caplan, Dina Ibarra. Directed by Maxine Trump

Motherhood is a central facet of a woman’s life. Biological imperatives aside, women have been socially assigned a nurturing role, one traditionally associated with child-rearing. For most women, having children is a central part of their existence. It was what they were born to do.

But that isn’t the case for all women. Recent studies have shown that one out of five women over the age of forty are childless. Some of that percentage has to do with infertility, but for many women, children just aren’t a part of the picture. Having babies may not fit in with career and life goals.

As filmmaker Maxine Trump (no relation to the President) discovered, there is a stigma attached to being childless when you’re a woman, particularly once you get married. There’s always family pressure: “When are you going to have a baby,” “When are you going to make me a grandma,” when when when. For Maxine, she wasn’t sure what the answer to that question was. That answer might truly turn out to be “never.”

Being a filmmaker, Maxine decided to turn the camera on herself as she went in search of an answer to that very important question – whether or not she wanted to have kids. In Maxine’s case, there were some compelling arguments against; surgeries when she had been younger had left doctors warning her that it was likely that she wouldn’t be able to bring a baby to term initially and that she would have to suffer through several miscarriages before successfully giving birth, which alone would be enough to give anybody pause.

Maxine also values her freedom to pursue her career, and being a filmmaker doesn’t mix terribly well with raising children as she is often called upon to shoot in all sorts of places around the world, some which you wouldn’t want to take a child to. Pursuing that dream was more a part of her identity as traditional female roles were.

It’s not that Maxine hates kids – she has plenty of nieces, nephews and other children around her and she’s more than happy to be around them. It’s just the drastic change in lifestyle wasn’t one that she wanted to make…but at the same time, there was that biological urge nagging at her, telling her that her clock was ticking ever onward and that her window of opportunity to be a mother was shrinking fast. What would her final decision be?

Well, the answer will be much more obvious to viewers I think than it was to Maxine herself. She dithers for much of the movie, often breaking down into tears which she claims at one point that she doesn’t do but by that time she had already done so several times. The question is clearly one that is eating her alive, not the least of which is that if she should choose to be childless she felt it would cost her friendships and relationships. It had already cost her a close friend who had gotten into an argument with her over whether it was selfish or not to have kids (or not to have them) and the two hadn’t spoken in years because of it.

On the selfishness question, incidentally, I need to weigh in since the question is brought up several times during the movie. It is selfish to have children, of course it is. It is also selfish not to have them. So what? What does it matter? It is selfish to eat because in taking in sustenance we are killing a living thing, be it plant or animal. It is selfish to breathe because we expel carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and in our own small way contribute to global warming. In some things, it is okay to be selfish. We have got to stop apologizing for existing as a culture. It’s okay to be a part of the human race and to want to have kids – or not. It truly isn’t anybody’s business.

This is clearly Maxine’s movie and this is a chronicle of her journey. There are times when her conflict felt a little bit managed in order to give the film some dramatic conflict, but in the end I don’t think that it actually was. There were some points that got pounded away a bit which felt a bit like nagging but perhaps I’m just sensitive to such things.

The movie also follows the quest of 20-something Brit Megan Turner who is attempting to get surgically sterilized. She has no desire to have kids and is concerned that if she continues to be sexually active that she will accidentally get pregnant. There is some resistance from the National Health Service to perform such a surgery without a medical reason; she is continually counseled by doctors to think over her decision since it isn’t reversible once the surgery is performed. At the end of the movie, Megan still awaits the surgery she has been seeking for more than three years.

It’s apparent that the goal for Maxine was to inform other women undergoing the same anguish she herself felt that it is okay to have these needs and to not want to have kids. It doesn’t make her – or they – any less of a woman despite the social backlash. It may be a bit of a primer in places but she does raise valid questions and tries to give valid answers. Not everyone will be able to get past their own ingrained preconceptions about women who choose to be childless and this movie simply won’t work for them. However, for those women out there who are questioning whether or not to have children, this is a good place to start looking for arguments on the side of “not to kid.”

REASONS TO GO: Some valid questions are raised here.
REASONS TO STAY: At times, it felt a bit like it was rehashing territory already covered.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity as well as sexual content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Two years after attending her first Childless by Choice conference in Cleveland, Trump would become a featured speaker at the annual event
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/19/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Good Life
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Jonathan

First Comes Love


Baby on board.

Baby on board.

 

(2012) Documentary (Self-Released) Nina Davenport. Directed by Nina Davenport   

 Florida Film Festival 2013

Having a baby isn’t a decision to be made lightly. It requires commitment and a certain amount of lunacy; once that decision is entered into, your life changes forever. This is doubly true for single moms, whose life focus must change to the baby they are about to have.

At 41, New York City documentary filmmaker Nina Davenport feels her biological clock ticking. Having a child of her own has been a life goal of hers and she has come to the conclusion that she can no longer wait to find the right man to have a child; she will have one without a husband and raise the baby by herself. She had a fairly idyllic childhood with a supportive mom and a father who provided well, working for the auto industry in Michigan. She also decides to document the process on-camera.

She selects Eric, a gay friend, to be the sperm donor; she assures him that he will carry no financial or moral responsibility towards the baby and can have whatever relationship with it that he chooses. He’s at first wary of the situation but ultimately agrees.

However, Davenport is faced with the death of her mother before she can get pregnant. Her relationship with her father – who is somewhat judgmental of her career choice and not the most supportive and affectionate of men – is rocky at best. Both of her brothers have achieved success in business and have families of their own. She reveals her plan to most of her family and friends seeking feedback – from her family most of it is negative. Her friends are somewhat more supportive, but one senses that there is some hesitation on their part to fully bless her scheme.

We see Ms. Davenport go through her pregnancy in all the hormonal spectacle that comes with it. We see her body become a receptacle of life and the beauty inherent in pregnancy. We see her confronting her doubts and those of her friends and family, her frustrations and her fears. We also see her joy and her eagerness to welcome a new life into the world which she eventually does, in graphic detail. For those who have ever seen a birth video, you get to see Nina’s so be aware that you see the baby come out of the birth canal and into the light so be aware of that if you’re a squeamish sort (but prospective mothers and fathers should probably see it before deciding if dad should be given a place in the delivery room).

By necessity this is a story that is very self-involved. Davenport chose to turn the camera on herself which of course invites judgment on her choices, on her life. I’m not sure I’d have had the courage to do that. Because she is not just chronicling changes to her life, but changes to her body, and thus we see a good deal of her breasts, her sex and so on. Certainly it’s brave but as my wife put it, once a woman gives birth she loses her modesty forever – the delivery room will do that to you.

I’m not 100% certain if this is the documentary she initially set out to make. I never got a sense of the bonding between Davenport and her baby although I’m sure that bond is there – it’s not something that’s easy to capture on film, particularly when you don’t have a particularly objective director.

And I think that objectivity is something this documentary could have used. We might have benefitted from another perspective other than that of the prospective mother but we are denied that and so we end up with kind of a one-dimensional film. I don’t know that this movie did Davenport any favors in her personal life; at baby Jasper’s first birthday, Nina’s apartment is full of well-wishers. For his second, there is only Nina, Jasper and Nina’s good friend and birth coach Amy. Now while that may have been by design to have a more intimate celebration, it leaves me wondering if the constant presence of the camera may have alienated some of Nina’s support group which may well be the kind of casualty that will in the long run effect Jasper just as much.

It’s not for me to question her choices mind you. I don’t know what her motivations are to document such a personal event in her life are – be it from a legitimate desire to show what single mothers approaching middle age are facing, or out of some sort of narcissistic streak inside Nina herself. That is ultimately up to the viewer to decide what they believe.

Birth is a beautiful thing. Raising a baby is an exhausting but rewarding adventure. I will say however that it is something that is far less rewarding to watch someone else do than it is to do oneself and I think that is at the core my problem with the film. It’s too much of a home movie of someone I don’t have an emotional connection with.

REASONS TO GO: Unflinchingly honest and occasionally brave.

REASONS TO STAY: Very self-involved. Really geared towards women more than men.

FAMILY VALUES:  Graphic nudity, sequences of human birth and plenty of bad language and adult themes – if your children aren’t aware of the birds and the bees yet you may wish to forego letting them see this until they’re a little older.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Davenport’s Operation Filmmaker previously appeared at the Florida Film Festival in 2008.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/13/13: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet; the movie has made a few appearances on the festival circuit.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Beautiful Belly

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Renoir and further coverage of the 2013 Florida Film Festival!!

Ceremony


All that's needed is a sexy R&B tune and you have a perfect romantic scene.

All that’s needed is a sexy R&B tune and you have a perfect romantic scene.

(2010) Comedy (Magnolia) Uma Thurman, Michael Angarano, Lee Pace, Reece Thompson, Rebecca Mader, Jake Johnson, Brooke Bloom, Harper Dill, Nathalie Love, Charlie Moss, Lisby Larson, Paul Amodeo, Philip Carlson, Catherine Russell, Jack Koenig, Jerrin Holt, Von Jeff. Directed by Max Winkler

Love is tricky. It is the ultimate expression of selflessness – putting the needs of someone else ahead of your own. It is also the ultimate expression of selfishness – we fall in love because of the way we feel, not because of the way we make someone else feel.

Sam Davis (Angarano) is an author of children’s books who, let’s face it, isn’t very good at what he does. His books are unnecessarily violent and profane and when he gives readings, only his pal Marshall (Thompson) is apt to show up and even that isn’t a given. Sam and Marshall have been squabbling of late and Sam decides to take Marshall out to a nice home out in the Hamptons to get away for awhile.

Marshall should have known that Sam was up to something. His ex Zoe (Thurman) is getting married to the egocentric and insufferable documentary filmmaker Whit Coutell (Pace) whose home it is they are going to and Sam intends to crash the wedding and win Zoe back. Marshall kind of goes along with this and Zoe certainly seems to be against the whole idea but Sam is nothing if not persistent.

Somewhat unbelievably, Sam is invited to stick around by the pompous Whit and sets out to win his girl back, despite the fact that on the surface they are far from suited for each other; Zoe towers over Sam, for example and is old enough to be his mom. However that’s just surface fluff; love goes much deeper than that and Sam is confident that Zoe will come around.

Different story for the rest of us. Winkler’s full-length feature film debut is unsatisfying on a lot of different levels. For one thing the characters here seem to be more of a collection of quirks and one-note characteristics – he’s suicidal, she’s a slut and so on and so on – and less genuine human beings who you would meet and want to hang out with. These are more like people who exist to advance a plot, or to provide elements of humor. Think of a film populated with sketch characters from the late-80s SNL and you get the idea.

Angarano has shown promise in movies like Almost Famous and more recently in The Forbidden Kingdom but hasn’t really fulfilled it yet. Like many young actors in Hollywood he is looking for that right role that will define him and push him up to the next level but to date he hasn’t found it yet. His character can be a bit overbearing and tends to pontificate and speechify more than speak. He’d be one of those cats you would never take on a road trip because you’d end up leaving him stranded at a truck stop or something.

Thurman seems to be slumming here. She’s a terrific actress who has come a long way since being know mainly for being beautiful (and she still is) but she’s acting in a different movie than everyone else here. I wish I’d been watching her movie; it seems far more interesting than this one.

Don’t get me wrong; this isn’t completely devoid of charm and there are some moments that are genuinely funny but not enough of them. I think Winkler was going for quirky in  a Wes Anderson kind of way and wound up being quirky in a Lars von Trier kind of way. The way that makes an audience stare longingly at the exit.

Winkler seems capable enough a director and visually this is a good looking film. I think he has some good films inside him but the Hollywood learning curve can be brutal. I hope he gets a chance to make those good films coz I’d hate for this to be his cinematic legacy.

WHY RENT THIS: Some funny moments.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Characters tend to be one-note caricatures instead of three-dimensional human beings. Sam is annoying and borderline creepy.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few curse words here and there, some sexuality and a bit of drug usage.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Winkler is the son of actor Henry Winkler, better known as the Fonz.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: A faux documentary by Whit is one of the features here.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $22,270 on an unreported production budget; it’s extremely unlikely that the film was profitable during its theatrical run.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Made of Honor

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: The Croods