Runtime: 1hr 34mins
Director/Writer: Zoë Kennison
Actors: Zoë Kennison, Kennedy Baldwin, Adam Hartley, Teà Kennison
By: Juli Horsford
“You look maternal,” isn’t exactly a compliment for a woman in her early twenties. In fact, it’s questionable whether that is ever a compliment but especially not when you’re at a party and a guy is hitting on you. Ivan (Zoë Kennison) is a twenty-two year old college student and her reaction to this attempt at flirting is spot on: shock mixed with a little bit of incredulity. Motherhood is one of the main themes of “Easy Bake”, which premiered at the St. Louis International Film Festival in 2020. When we first meet Ivan, she is at a gynecologist appointment. As a result of this checkup, Ivan is informed that she has a condition where child birth will be virtually impossible. Her gynecologist advises her to get pregnant within the year, otherwise she won’t be able to have children. The rest of “Easy Bake” sees Ivan grappling with this news and unsure of how to proceed.
Another important aspect of “Easy Bake” is how being a woman in today’s world is depicted. The opening scene comments on this theme the loudest.
Throughout the film, we are given tiny nuggets of information about Ivan. She is twenty-two and has had minimal experience dating or being sexually active which she hilariously and awkwardly relays to her gynecologist. She loves to run and is in college getting a degree in sociology. She has a sister, Tegan (Teà Kennison), who is constantly stealing her food and they have a sweet and very relatable sisterly relationship. Ivan’s mother seems chilly and not at all interested in Ivan’s accomplishments. She barely bats an eye when Ivan attempts to discuss her thesis project. In fact, she berates her for her foolish choice of a major. You can feel the strain of their relationship through the screen. This movie is delightfully chock full of interesting relationships. Ivan’s friend Jo (Kennedy Baldwin) also happens to be her roommate and it’s one of the best friendships I’ve seen depicted in a film this year. There isn’t any superficial drama even when you expect there to be. Jo and Ivan genuinely care about each other and most of their scenes together involve cracking jokes and being goofy. At times it’s exhausting to see how films totally butcher friendships between women and it was refreshing to see someone absolutely nail a good representation.
Adding to the plethora of good moments in “Easy Bake,” Ivan is a nanny to three young children to make money while she attends college. It’s in these moments where we see Ivan contemplating motherhood and the dilemma she’s having. She likes the kids, and she’s (surprisingly) good with them. It is here that the true parallels of the story are brought to the forefront. Ivan is under a time crunch to make the huge, life altering decision of becoming a mother. On one hand she is very clearly not ready. She’s still in school, lives with a roommate, struggles to pay her bills, and on top of that hasn’t really had any experience in the dating world. But on the other hand, while watching scenes of Ivan babysitting, we see a different side to her. She is calm, patient, and seems to truly like being with the kids. This duality messes with us as we watch her navigate this difficult decision and it messes with her too. We see her vacillate between the two directions her life could go and to be honest neither path is unimaginable. That’s a credit to Kennison’s directorial prowess. We are witnessing Ivan’s thought process unfold, which makes for a very thoughtful and entertaining film.
Perhaps Kennison’s greatest feat is how she infuses the movie with an enormous amount of character and charm while confronting gender stereotypes and the patriarchal world we live in. Some of it is a bit overt — like when we get bits of a gender studies class that blatantly spells out masculine versus feminine qualities. But most of it is layered within the movie. At one point Ivan asks the kids she babysits what they want to be when they grow up. Jade (Willow Brendel) responds right away that she wants to be a mom. Ivan asks Jade’s brother William (Thatcher Brendel) if he wants to be a daddy, to which he loudly and emphatically screams, “NO!” Ivan’s reaction to these opposite answers is one of silent consideration.
Continuing the theme of examining our patriarchal society, it’s worth noting that Ivan’s gynecologist doesn’t even ask if she wants kids. He simply informs her that she needs to hop to it and start popping out kids. It’s hard to imagine this doctor acting the same way if a man found out he had a short time span to help conceive a child. These gendered assumptions are on display throughout the movie and Kennison does a good job of sliding them in and letting you decide how to interpret them.
It is writer and director Zoë Kennison’s foray into deeper themes that makes “Easy Bake” so compelling.
Another important aspect of “Easy Bake” is how being a woman in today’s world is depicted. The opening scene comments on this theme the loudest. The scene at the gynecologist’s office subtly conveys how intrusive the experience of an exam can be and by extension, the experience of being a woman. When Ivan changes into the exam gown, she covers up and takes her bra off underneath the gown, not exposing anything. But later on in the comfort of her own bedroom, Ivan gets undressed and we see her entire naked form. This speaks volumes, particularly in a world where women’s bodies are often seen as merely a display for others to ogle (others here having the meaning of mainly cisgender, straight men). We only see the full picture when Ivan is comfortable with it, when she’s alone, or when she’s in control of her surroundings. It’s an incredibly subtle but important commentary on the female body and consent.
What makes “Easy Bake” so enjoyable are the performances and the general quirkiness of the characters mixed with the complexity of the story. You’ll find yourself laughing at Ivan’s antics one minute and squirming at her awkwardness the next. Not to mention the heavy subject matter makes for a thought-provoking experience, particularly if you are at an age where motherhood is on the table. Societal and familial pressures to have children are real and Kennison doesn’t shy away from these difficult questions. If “Easy Bake” had skimmed the surface, the movie would have fallen flat. It is writer and director Zoë Kennison’s foray into deeper themes that makes “Easy Bake” so compelling.