Runtime: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Director: Curtis Vowell
Written by: Sophie Henderson
Stars: Rose Matafeo, Matthew Lewis, Emily Barclay, Rachel House, Nic Sampson
By James Cain
Why would anybody want to have a baby? You’re basically paying an exorbitant amount of money for an intermittently-howling faeces factory who will rob you of your independence and most likely grow up to spend several years being a bit of a dick. Heck, filmmaker couple Sophie Henderson and Curtis Vowell had to create a whole film to get over the experience. As “When Harry Met Sally” (1989) asked the question “can a heterosexual man and woman be friends without sex getting in the way?”, new Kiwi romcom “Baby Done” ponders “Can people get pregnant without having to give up being adventurous and cool?”
Actor / standup Rose Matafeo plays Zoe, a fiercely independent arborist (tree surgeon) living and working in Auckland with her boyfriend Tim (Matthew Lewis). The couple are living the high-life: cutting trees by day, doing whatever they want by night, and eyeing up tree climbing competitions abroad. They’ve got a loveable young colleague, a charmingly deadpan friend, a beautiful dog called Bear, and the best mum and dad for whom anyone could hope (being a parentless Brit in Aotearoa NZ, Tim really has been brought into the family). They’ve no interest in having kids, a sentiment hammered home by attending a gender-reveal party (the film hilariously skewers this retrograde practice and it is satisfying). It’s not long, however, before the plot chops down their tree of security with a surprise: Zoe is pregnant.
“Baby Done” reveals itself to be a thoroughly modern, progressive film right away. As well as the horrors of said blue/pink party, the movie at no point acts like an abortion would be a bad thing: It’s just that these two people “don’t not want to have a baby” with each other. One supporting character has a non-mainsteam sexual kink that, while definitely played for laughs, is never mocked. There’s also the fact that so many Western romcoms feature white couples as the lead – as explored in last year’s excellent documentary “Romantic Comedy”, do check that out – while the central couple of “Baby Done” is mixed-race. This doesn’t have any bearing on the plot, and is an entirely everyday situation in Aotearoa NZ, but it’s still enough of a sad rarity to be a bit of a treat (see also: 2020’s “The Broken Hearts Gallery).
Less ideal, though, is how Zoe reacts to pregnancy. While Tim goes into full preparation mode – buying the stuff, doing the research, treating his partner with a lot more delicacy – the mum-to-be has no intention of living her life as “married, house, baby, done”. Instead, she’s dead-set on working up until she can depart for Canada to compete in the world tree-climbing championships, which she has a legit chance at winning (or did have). As the reality of the situation starts sinking in, Zoe starts acting increasingly unreasonably, getting into slapstick situations, urinating in places that she shouldn’t, stressing everybody out and putting her idyllic relationship at risk, especially when pregophile Brian (a scene-stealing Nic Sampson) hits the scene.
In lesser hands, Zoe would become a bit too unlikeable. Thankfully, the combination of Henderson’s bitingly-funny script and Matafeo’s sledgehammer of unstoppable charm ensure that while you are laughing both with and at our bumpy antihero, you’re never not on her side. She and Lewis also share a magnificent chemistry, simultaneously boasting that old-married-couple pisstaking dynamic while also being deeply into one another. Vowell delivers the film in an excellently breezy form, too, meaning that your face is still tingling from laughter at sexual mishaps or toilet door misadventures when you’re hit with emotional devastation. While the camerawork isn’t anything too flashy, Vowell and cinematographer Ian McCarroll keep everything looking warm and sunny, with thankfully only one travelogue shot of Auckland’s skyline. Kudos too to executive producer Taika Waititi, who paid for Henderson & Vowell’s childcare (Nora Ephron would approve – childcare is of course a must if more women are to be allowed at the film industry table).
With “Baby Done” about to take its first steps onto international screens after an NZ release late last year, it’s worth flagging up as a must-see indie scrapper, especially for those missing the acerbic comedy of the sitcom “Catastophe”. It made this writer’s top 20 of 2020, and will no doubt be high up on a lot of international viewers’ lists come the end of 2021.
[This reviewer does not rate films as standard]