Overview: A nurse and her two gay best friends struggle to conceive a baby together while dealing with daily harassment from their offbeat neighbor. The Orchard; 2015; Rated R; 100 minutes.
Three For One Deal: Nasty Baby ambitiously attempts to be three different films, each with its own distinct voice and tone, all at once. A woman, her best friend, and his partner are facing adversity as they try to create their own non-traditional family; an artist struggles to find his own creative voice, and a family is harassed by their neighbor, sparking a dangerous game of back and forth that goes too far. While occasionally all of these themes manage to work together to create emotionally impactful and creatively harmonious moments, no room exists to flesh out and finish each one in order to bring it to a satisfying conclusion.
Each story Sebastián Silva, who directs, writes, and stars in the film, is trying to tell is strong enough to stand on its own two feet, constantly leaving viewers restless and slightly abandoned when a shift is made, as if they are being handed a few pieces of three different puzzles instead of all the pieces for any of them. The journey these characters take to build their family and the obstacles they overcome is a heavy, timely topic that particularly deserves further exploration and a bigger spotlight. Their ups and downs become overshadowed by the drama of a neighborhood feud and the melodrama of an existential crisis.
Silva and Friends: The cast is easily the most cohesive element of Nasty Baby, with Silva leading the way as Freddy, a hopeful father and passionate artist whose anger issues reach their peak when neither of these things go as planned. It’s not hard to guess that Silva is the most invested in all aspects of this film, because he performs his role with an earnestness that expresses his pride in what he has created. Kristen Wiig has given audiences a string of more subtle, dramatic indie performances in the last year, a niche that suits her as much if not more than her comedic roles, and that streak continues with her character Polly. Tunde Adebimpe rounds out the trio as Mo, adding a calming, restrained presence that remains the one steady constant throughout a film that relies otherwise on the unstable and unknown.
A Family Affair: Any other path this film might have been traveling on is erased by the time it veers abruptly away from any existing course into surprisingly dark territory in the final minutes. All character development, emotional conflicts, and moral ambiguity is abandoned when survival and protection kicks in. The ending could be viewed either as a lazy avoidance of providing any closure or as a biting and intelligent portrayal of human instinct. I’d like to see it as the latter, which makes the seemingly aimless meshing of tones and themes suddenly become a deliberate message that none of the rest really matters when you’re put in a position to make questionable decisions in order to protect your family.
Overall: Although occasionally trying and failing to balance the array of stories it aims to tell, Nasty Baby‘s performances and conclusion provide a method to the madness as it reminds us of the constant state of the human condition.