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Shared custody – ‘Babysplitters’

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Every once in a while, a movie comes along whose single-sentence description essentially dares you to watch it. These are the movies – usually indies – whose concept is so unexpected that you have no choice but to be intrigued.

For instance: Two couples, each of whom are conflicted about having children, decide to team up and have one child that they’ll share between them. Admit it – you are now VERY curious about that movie.

That movie is “Babysplitters,” a comedy written and directed by Sam Friedlander. And yes, it is a movie about two couples, split on the idea of having kids, hatching a plot to have and split a kid between them. It’s an absurd notion, sure, but one treated with a sense of genuine possibility.

On its face, it is ridiculous, but through this ludicrous plan, Friedlander and company give us a glimpse at the complex nature of relationships and what it means to want children. It isn’t always as simple as making the choice; a married couple can be possessed of two very different ideas about childrearing. Some people are more ready than others – and some people are willing to do just about anything to have a shot at parenthood.

Jeff (Danny Pudi, TV’s “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet”) and Sarah (Emily Chang, TV’s “The Bold Type”) are a married couple trying to decide whether to have a kid. Meter maid Sarah feels like she’s ready, but Jeff – a tech guy for a farm-to-table startup – isn’t sure if he’s prepared. The two go back and forth about the idea, but they can’t seem to come to an agreement.

Their friends Don (Eddie Alfano, “Vanilla”) and Taylor (Maiara Walsh, “Killer Dream Home”) are in a similar boat – gym owner Don is ready for fatherhood, but Taylor is still working as a dancer and not quite in a place where she wants to get pregnant.

To have kids or not to have kids – that is the question. And it’s a question that’s causing a fair amount of tension of both relationships. But when Jeff – as a joke – proposes the idea of the couples coming together to have a baby that all four of them would raise, things get … interesting. All of them initially laugh it off, but it isn’t long before they start seriously considering it.

It’s complicated, obviously. But it becomes even more complicated when they realize that their initial plan for in vitro fertilization is prohibitively expensive and artificial insemination is not much better. Their fertility specialist Dr. Palmer (Brian Thomas Smith, TV’s “The Big Bang Theory”) offers up a solution – doing it the old-fashioned way.

As you might imagine, bringing Sarah and Don together to make a baby is weird – particularly since Jeff and Taylor insist on being present. But it only gets weirder when the pregnancy happens. The tensions between the couples begin to mount as none of the people involved are prepared for the emotional chaos that their actions brought to pass. The relationships between them deteriorate as no one is able to fully deal with the unforeseen consequences of their pact – consequences that are only going to grow as this baby comes into the world.

“Babysplitters” could have been a disaster. There are a LOT of ways in which a concept like this one could go off the rails in an unsettling and/or off-putting way. Seriously, this whole thing could have been kind of gross. The fact that it isn’t is a testament to the filmmakers and the talents of the cast.

A big part of the film’s success is its willingness to address just how complex the choice to have children can be. Every couple has this conversation – watching these two pairings talk it through feels engaging and genuine, even if their proposed solution feels … less so. Underneath the weirdness is a very real look at the fears that come with potential parenthood.

Again, it’s absurd. But that absurdity allows for a much more forthright exploration of the decisions that lead to parenthood. The fundamental lunacy of this plan provides a window in which we see each of these people forced to reckon with their feelings. We watch them deal with the up-and-down roller coaster of impending parenthood, even as it is rendered all the more bizarre by the unlikely circumstances of their situation. It’s emotionally fraught, yes, but also quite funny.

There are a couple of subplots of varying effectiveness revolving around Jeff – we see his workplace situation ebb and flow and we get to see him spending time with his therapist (Mark Feuerstein, TV’s “9JKL”) – that are amusing enough, although they’re ultimately just distractions from the main storyline. One could argue that that time would have been better spent digging deeper into the central quartet as a unit.

None of this works without a charming cast. Luckily, this group is charming as hell. Pudi tends to get a certain type of role, but this film allows him to move beyond his quirky weirdo wheelhouse. He finds a different way to be funny here that really works. Chang brings a wonderful energy to the screen, making some strong and unexpected choices. The two of them as a duo are a delight. Walsh and Alfano can’t quite match their dynamic, but they’re still pretty good. The movie is at its best when it’s the four of them together, riffing through the weirdness and addressing their unconventional situation head on. The supporting cast – Feuerstein, Smith and the rest – are fine, but they tend to fade into the background.

“Babysplitters” doesn’t fully work. It’s clunky in spots and occasionally seems to lose focus. However, with an engagingly weird presence and a central foursome committed to the bit, it works a hell of a lot better than it might have. All told, I’m on board with “Babysplitters.”

[3 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 27 July 2020 12:11

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