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.



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

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Didn't I see this in a letter to Penthouse?

(Weinstein) Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Craig Robinson, Traci Lords, Katie Morgan, Ricky Mabe, Jason Mewes, Justin Long, Jeff Anderson, Brandon Routh, Tom Savini. Directed by Kevin Smith

I am quite frankly a big Kevin Smith fan. Chasing Amy is one of my favorite movies from the Nineties, and I also adore Dogma and Jersey Girl (which I guess makes me a fanboy). While I wasn’t high on Clerks II or Mallrats I still admire them as well. I guess it’s safe to say he has a whole lot of leeway with me when it comes to his movies.

Zack (Rogen) and Miri (Banks) have been friends since high school and while they’ve never been romantically involved, they manage to stay close; in fact, they share a dumpy apartment. The electricity has been shut off just before they go to their high school reunion, one which is important more to Miri than to Zack (she’s even managed to procure a new dress for the occasion). Zack works at a coffee bar with his good friend Delaney (Robinson) and Miri is forced to change into her new dress in the coffee bar’s kitchen, which is filmed by a couple of teenaged dickweeds. More on that later.

The reunion is a complete disaster. The guy that Miri is trying to impress, Bobby Long (Routh) turns out to be gay, much to the amusement of Zack who discovers this while talking to Bobby’s gay porn star partner (Long) who then proceeds to out Bobby to the whole class. Ouch.

With funds getting thin, water and power turned off and the prospects of not being able to pay the rent looming, they discover that Miri has become famous for her striptease video which the dickweeds uploaded to YouTube. They need cash quickly and they decide to cash in on Miri’s newfound fame by making a porno. Hey, if Bobby’s gay partner can do it, then it can’t be impossible can it?

Surprisingly, Miri agrees to the scheme. To this end they recruit Delaney as a producer, high school videographer Deacon (Smith regular Anderson) to shoot the movie, as well as several would-be porn stars to act in it; Bubbles (former porn star Lords), Stacey (current porn star Morgan) and the very well-hung (and possibly deranged) Lester (Mewes). They decide to do a Star Wars-themed porno but when circumstances force that to shut down, they decide to film in the coffee bar instead.

However, when the time comes for Zack and Miri to film their own sex scene, they discover that it becomes more than sex. Once the two of them have scenes with other actors, it complicates a friendship which when they least expected it had grown into something else.

Smith is maybe one of the best writers in the business. Yes, he’s fond of using a variety of profanity but he uses it in the same way Hemingway used machismo, as a means to an end. The characters here are all interesting; you could spend time with any one of them and find yourself entertained and you get a room full of them at any given time. There are moments that are hysterically funny, and others that are quietly endearing.

Smith’s movies have a tendency to be rather raunchy on the outside but have a surprisingly tender inside. Chasing Amy for example was one of the most romantic movies I’ve ever seen, and one that gets what love is more thoroughly than any ten Lifetime Movie Channel movies you could name. Certainly sex is part of the equation, but as it does for Zack and Miri, the movie goes beyond the equation by a really large margin. It’s actually refreshing to see a movie that balances both the emotional with the physical instead of dwelling on one or the other.

Rogen made a name for himself as the endearing schlub in Knocked Up and this movie comes closest to the sweetness of that character. Sure he has an immature streak but you love him anyway, the same way you love that friend of yours that can be counted on to mess up at any given time, but not so much out of malice or stupidity but more out of bad luck and low ambitions.

I can’t tell you why Elizabeth Banks isn’t an A-list star, but she surely deserves to be. She is pretty and smart and plays a character that can hold her own with anybody. Sure, she makes some poor life choices but again, who hasn’t? Roles like this are perfect for Banks, who can be sexy and smart – often the two don’t mix in Hollywood. I’m still hoping for a big breakout film for her, but there don’t appear to be any forthcoming for her for the moment.

There is a lot of graphic nudity, simulated sex and sexual humor here, so this is definitely not for the Puritanical at heart, but those who aren’t easily offended will find this a bit refreshing; a raunchy comedy that actually is more than just funny. It makes you feel good and at the end of the day, isn’t that why you see movies in the first place?

WHY RENT THIS: There is more heart than crotch in this movie despite all signs to the contrary. Rogen and Banks exhibit some real chemistry.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Sensitive souls will find the overuse of the f-bomb and the frank sexual humor off-putting.

FAMILY VALUES: This very nearly got an NC-17 and while it didn’t really deserve it, there is plenty of sexuality and frank discussion of sex, enough to scare any prude away.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Actor Tom Savini, who plays Jenkins, was the make-up man for Dawn of the Dead which was set in Monroeville, Pennsylvania; the hockey team Zack and Deacon play on is called the Monroeville Zombies.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: As with most Kevin Smith films, there is a wealth of features, deleted scenes and other assorted goodies totaling well over two hours.


TOMORROW: Knight and Day