Nasty Baby (2015)

Nasty Baby
Director: Sebastián Silva
Writer: Sebastián Silva
Cast: Sebastián Silva, Kristen Wiig, Tunde Adebimpe, Alia Shawkat, Mark Margolis, Reg E. Cathey
Part of: /slash Filmfestival
Seen on: 21.9.2015
[Reviews by cornholio and Maynard.]

Plot:
Polly (Kristen Wiig) really wants to have a baby. Her best friend Freddy (Sebastián Silva), too, and since he’s gay, they decided to try and have one together. But Freddy’s sperm count is low, so they try to convince his partner Mo (Tunde Adebimpe) to step up, despite Mo being less into the idea of having a child. As they wait for the go ahead and the positive pregnancy test, Freddy not only works on an art project where he behaves like a baby, he also starts a little war with a mentally ill man, the Bishop (Reg E. Cathey), in the neighborhood.

Nasty Baby wasn’t a bad film, but it wasn’t completely well-rounded either. It changed its pace quite a few times, and not all of those changes would have been necessary or were actually advisable.

Nasty-Baby

[SPOILERS]

The first 90 minutes of the film (or so), it’s actually a nice little indie, slightly romantic comedy that had me laughing out loud more than once. From Freddy’s art project (including the absurd gallery visit with the even more absurd oracle) to the cat, there was a light sense of humor suffused throughout the entire film.

Which meant that the ending, where the Bishop follows Freddy into the apartment and Freddy kills him, leading to the protagonists disposing of the Bishop’s body and moving on with their lives as if nothing happened (the credits show them all rollerblading while Let Me Think About It is playing, having an apparently grand time), felt extremely out of place. How did we get from joking about sperm counts to mopping up blood?

nasty-baby1While that didn’t work for me from a narrative point of view, I liked it in terms of what it had to say: for one, death arrives unannounced and at most inopportune moments, both in this film and in real life. But more importantly, the film raises interesting questions of intersecionality: a black man, an illegally immigrated latino who are in a relationship and a single white woman who don’t seem to have any money problems and can even indulge in risky art projects decide to have a baby together and kill a mentally ill, poor black man. Despite it being self-defence (or at least as much self-defence that it wouldn’t have been a problem in court), they can’t come clean because of Freddy’s status. So together they get rid off his body and thus manage to reinstate a normality that was severely called into question by the Bishop’s behavior. The ease with which they all do that and with which they then go back to their lives underscores the marginalized position of people with mental health issues and no money.

If Silva had managed to pack all of that into a film that is more consistent in tone and maybe even clearer on its own (moral/ethical) position, I would be singing its praises. Nasty Baby is a little too lopsided for that. But it’s still an extremely strong film with a lot to say.

Nasty-Baby2Summarizing: Well worth it.

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4 thoughts on “Nasty Baby (2015)

  1. I think that it was very much on purpose that Silva didn’t make the moral/ethical position of the movie clearer.* IMHO, he didn’t want to propagate a message and/or a position, but rather raise questions that the audience should answer for themselves. I very much liked that :). Then again, I can understand that you would have wished for a clearer statement.

    • It was probably on purpose. But I personally feel a little fed-up with the “draw your own conclusions” stance. I want films and people to have opinions. I can disagree with (parts of) those, and I probably will often. But leaving things up in the air like that feels a little cowardly. You don’t have to have answers but at least a theory – because I’m convinced that everybody who tells a story has a theory for or an interpretation of that story. It certainly won’t be the only possible interpretation/theory and it’s not automatically more right than others. But pretending it isn’t there – and even if it’s just “too complex to know for certain” – feels dishonest to me.
      Giving people a theory doesn’t keep them from thinking for themselves, it means that they can’t evaluate an already existing theory and build on it to maybe arrive at a better answer, it means that people will keep giving the same answers over and over again, thinking they have stumbled on the bee’s knees.
      [I hope I’m making myself clear. This turned slightly more philosopical than expected. :)]

      • While I enjoy both – “message”-movies and those who let the audience draw their own conclusion – I feel that there’s an overbundance of the former and a shortage of the latter, which is why I loved that they kept it as open as they did here. As you said, they don’t even offer a “theory” or even a slight indication. The audience is witness to this murder, and is pretty much left alone. Silva doesn’t tell us what to think, what to feel. He just lets this moment stand for itself. And I don’t think that this led to the audience all feeling the same way about it, and/or arriving at the same conclusion. So I’m afraid that’s a case where we’ll have to respectfully agree to disagree ;-).

        • I’m not talking about message movies, I’m talking about opinion movies – there’s a difference there, I think. I don’t want the film to tell me what I think, I want the film to tell me what _it_ thinks.
          And especially in a certain artsy film genre, open/unclear films are the norm. And while I feel that there’s room for uncertainty and doubt, I think that you nevertheless should take some kind of position (which is not immutable).

          What I meant with “all arrive at the same conclusion” is not that all have the exact same reaction, but it’s a little more abstract than that. If you take Nasty Baby, with the open end and the murder, you have a few interpretative options (to simplify things this is only re the guilt angle):
          – the protagonists are entitled, self-obsessed assholes without empathy
          – Bishop deserved it and it was bound to happen
          – it’s nobody’s fault, shit things just happen
          I feel that if the movie had taken any of these three positions, we would have more options for discussion. Instead of just thinking about whose fault it is, we could discuss whether the position the movie takes is correct (which would basically be the same discussion as whose fault it is), but we would also be talking more about what it would mean if we accept the film’s premise. By not giving us a position, people will mostly get stuck with the question of whose fault it is.

          At leat that’s my theory. You’re free to disagree with my premise, or to discuss with me what it means. But if I hadn’t taken a position, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. ;)

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