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!!

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Starbuck


Here's how you'll likely feel after seeing this movie.

Here’s how you’ll likely feel after seeing this movie.

(2011) Comedy (EntertainmentOne) Patrick Huard, Julie LeBreton, Antoine Bertrand, Dominic Philie, Marc Belanger, Igor Ovadis, David Michael, Patrick Martin, David Giguere, Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse, Sebastien Beaulac, Patrick Labbe, Andre Lanthier, Patrick Caux, Catherine De Seve. Directed by Ken Scott

 Florida Film Festival 2013

Being a father is easy (and fun). It doesn’t even require a mom these days – just sperm. Being a dad however is a whole ‘nother story.

David Wozniak (Huard) is about as irresponsible as guys can get. He works for his father (Ovadis) delivering meat to various stores and restaurants around Montreal. It’s the easiest job in his dad’s business but even that David screws up. He uses the delivery van for personal business, forgets vital tasks (like picking up soccer jerseys for team picture day) and generally gets into trouble without meaning to. He’s been with his beautiful girlfriend Valerie (LeBreton) for four years and seems content to let things remain pretty much as they are.

He’s a bachelor slacker, well-liked but not respected. Then Valerie gets pregnant. HE is willing to do the right thing but SHE has taken a good hard look at David and realizes, perhaps regretfully, that he is anything but dad material. She wants to break up; he wants to prove to her that he can grow up.

But he is deeply in debt to loan sharks (who send thugs around to his apartment to laconically hold his head under water to remind him that if he doesn’t pay up soon he is going to end up floating face down in some unpleasant body of water) and nobody really takes him seriously enough to give him a chance to prove himself. To make matters worse, he is served with a summons that turns out to be quite a blast from his past.

As a younger man he had regularly donated sperm to a specific sperm bank in order to make some cash. Due to a clerical error, more than 500 of his samples have been used to impregnate different women . He is now the proud daddy of 533 kids and 152 of them are suing to get his identity revealed.

At first David is appalled and hires a friend (Bertrand) to represent him legally. That friend is also a dad, although his kids basically don’t EVER listen to him and treat him like a jungle gym more than anything else. His friend, the scruffiest barrister ever looks on this as an opportunity to argue a groundbreaking case, maybe the only one he’ll ever have.

After initial reluctance, he begins to look at the profiles of his now-adult children. He tells himself it will be just once. When that child turns out to be a superstar soccer player, David is ecstatic. It becomes like a drug, looking in on his kids and surreptitiously inserting himself into their lives as a kind of guardian angel. Gradually David grows to realize this might be the opportunity to prove himself that he can improve himself that he was looking for.

The movie has a profound charm to it and a kind of scruffy sense of humor. It is sweet at unexpected moments, sometimes tugging the heartstrings without warning. Huard is given a much more layered and complex role than at first it appears – David is certainly a slacker of epic proportions but he also has an amazing heart – his father tells him in one of the most affecting scenes in the movie “I never have to worry because everyone loves you.” In short, one of those rare dads who recognizes that there are different standard of success in life than the ones he measures himself by. It truly is one of the most difficult parts of being a parent – understanding that your definition of success may not be what your child is looking for in life.

Starbuck is one of those rare movies (although this year there seem to be more of them) that looks at what it means to be a dad – there have always seemed to be more mom movies than dad movies in Hollywood, particularly in the last 50 years. Being a dad has challenges of its own, and sometimes in our rush to exalt motherhood (and don’t get me wrong, motherhood deserves exaltation) we forget the important and vital contributions that father’s make in the nurturing of children. Parenthood isn’t a process or a science and it’s barely even an art form – it’s thinking on your feet, it’s being willing to change your own outlook before trying to force your kid to change theirs. It is frustrating, demanding, infuriating – and ultimately as rewarding an endeavor as a man can undertake.

This isn’t the ultimate fatherhood movie – there are a few too many easy-to-spot plot points for that. Still, I found myself enjoying the charm and outright manipulation the movie put me through. Huard is likable enough and the movie pulls just enough unexpected moments to drive the score as high as it winds up. If you’re looking for a case of the warm fuzzies, here’s your source.

REASONS TO GO: Heartwarming. Very funny at times. Huard does a terrific job.

REASONS TO STAY: A bit far-fetched occasionally. A tiny bit too long.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s a good deal of sexual content, a pretty fair amount of rough language and a teeny bit of drug material.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The title refers not only to the character from Battlestar Galactica but more specifically to a Canadian Holstein bull that during the 1980s and 1990s fathered thousands of progeny and is considered one of the most fertile creatures ever to have lived.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/9/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 64% positive reviews. Metacritic: 48/100; not what you’d call an overwhelming critical endorsement.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Daddy Day Care

FINAL RATING: 9/10

NEXT: The Painting and more 2013 Florida Film Festival coverage!!!

The Switch


The Switch

Jason Bateman is a little too happy to be holding someone else's sperm.

(2010) Romantic Comedy (Miramax) Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Patrick Wilson, Jeff Goldblum, Juliette Lewis, Thomas Robinson, Todd Louiso, Caroline Dhavernas, Scott Elrod, Kelli Barrett, Bryce Robinson, Edward James Hyland.  Directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon

In the 21st century, families and children are becoming more and more complex as technology whizzes ahead of our moral compasses which are spinning like a top trying to keep up. The fact of the matter is that we are going to run into all sorts of grey area situations if we’re not careful.

Kassie (Aniston) is a TV producer pushing 40 who loves her job which has interfered with her romantic life. Now seeing her biological clock ticking down to zero and no boyfriends in sight, she has made the decision to be artificially inseminated. To that end, she has chosen a donor from an Internet ad – Roland (Wilson). He’s tan with nice teeth and a gosh darn kind of attitude, but there’s one problem – he’s not Wally.

Wally Mars (Bateman) is Kassie’s best friend. He’s also got a list of neuroses that would stump the editors of Psychology Today. A shameless hypochondriac and commitment-phobe, he and Kassie hang out together and do all sorts of things together. They’re definitely best friends and you get a sense that both of them want more – they just don’t know how to get there from where they were.

So when Kassie throws a party to celebrate her impending motherhood, Wally is a little uncomfortable with the crassness of the proceedings and to be honest, with the thought of losing his friend. Drunk, he goes into the bathroom only to find the sperm sample that will be transported to the hospital later that evening. You can guess what happens next (no, you really can – it’s in the trailer).

For those who can’t guess, through a series of imbecilic drunken moves, Wally accidentally spills the other man’s seed (and wouldn’t Freud have a field day with that) and resolves to replace it with his own, using a magazine cover of Diane Sawyer as wacking material, which must make for the most uncomfortable time Diane Sawyer’s ever had at the movies.

Frustrated with her best friends inability to support her decision and with a job offer in Minnesota, Kassie slips through Wally’s fingers despite the best intentions of Wally’s friend and co-worker Leonard (Goldblum) who tries to urge Wally to pursue the woman he obviously loves; Wally’s fears won’t allow that to happen.

Years later, Kassie returns with son Sebastian (T. Robinson) in tow. However, Sebastian has many of Wally’s mannerisms – and hypochondria. Wally is torn between telling Kassie the truth – with impending nuptials to the would-be baby daddy Roland hanging overhead, or letting her find her own happiness.

Like many romantic comedies, there is a certain formula here but in defense of the directing team of Speck and Gordon, the movie derives from a short story which has a lot to do with the formulaic aspects of the film. However, the movie also keeps that framework to a bare minimum, allowing the story to go off on a few tangents which are happily received.

So we have an interesting teaming of Bateman and Aniston, chemistry that you wouldn’t think works. And for the most part, it doesn’t. However both are undoubtedly charming and it takes them both a long way in this movie. It’s another typically Aniston role with a professional woman “saving” a man in his 40s and let’s face it, no movie that relies on Aniston’s charm is going to be all bad.

Bateman has rapidly become one of the most reliable comedic leads in Hollywood. Part of his strength is his ability to stretch into a variety of roles, from genuine nice guy to unapologetic schlubb. He’s not super-handsome and he doesn’t have the natural comedic talents of Jim Carrey or Will Ferrell, but he does comedy well. He can be both straight man and punch line deliverer, and occasionally is both at once.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Jeff Goldblum. Always a quirky character actor, he steals scenes with the rapacity of a Wall Street CEO. He’s developed into a fine character actor, and I hope we see him far more often onscreen than we have been.

The problem here is that this movie wants to be a sitcom at times and at others wants to be an R-rated comedy. I really really wish they’d gone for the latter; I think the movie would have worked much better in that venue. Still, it’s a solid movie that has some rather adult themes and some moments of sheer brilliance, but not enough of them to make this a classic. For one thing, it’s subverted by its need to be a PG-13 comedy. Why any studio executive wanted to make a romantic comedy about artificial insemination a PG-13 is beyond my feeble brainpower.

WHY RENT THIS: Bateman does a crackerjack job as the neurotic lead. Goldblum is a crack-up, stealing scene after scene.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Sitcom-ish at times. It might have worked better as an R-rated comedy.

FAMILY VALUES: The themes are certainly mature and there is a good deal of sexuality including some nudity. There’s also a fair amount of bad language and a scene or two containing drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the first movie to be released by Miramax after being sold by the Walt Disney Company.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a blooper real along with all the usual suspects.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $49.8M on a $19M production budget; the movie was profitable.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Hellboy: The Golden Army