Director: Sebastián Silva
Cast: Kristen Wiig, Sebastián Silva
Watch Nasty Baby online in the UK: We Are Colony
Kristen Wiig is one of Hollywood’s most interesting stars, not just because of her acting talent but because of her acting choices. She’s an eminently likeable performer, as happy to star in The Martian and Bridesmaids as she is in Welcome to Me and The Diary of a Teenage Girl. That even extends to Nasty Baby, a film that actively doesn’t want to be liked.
Sebastián Silva’s movie follows a single Brooklynite, Polly (Wiig), who really wants to have a baby – so much so that she’s enlisted her best friend, Freddy (Silva himself), to provide the necessary sperm. When that doesn’t work, she asks his boyfriend, Mo (Adebimpe), to take on donor duty.
It’s great to see a personal and overlooked issue, such as infertility, tackled within the contexts of a non-heteronormative relationship. To Nasty Baby’s credit, it never treats that subject as a big deal – as with most of Silva’s work, the dialogue is improvised around a loose narrative, giving things a low-key, natural feel. Even the humour that surfaces doesn’t rely on laugh-out-loud one-liners, but small interactions between the central trio, who have the kind of realistic chemistry that sparks smiles more than guffaws.
But, again, as with most of Silva’s work, that isn’t the end game – not quite. That gentle, indie sensibility is only there to expose the audiences to something else. And so, like the director’s previous film Magic Magic, which saw a holiday descend into a cruel horror, Nasty Baby begins to focus more and more on the first word of its title. That shift in tone is teased from the off, with the jumpy editing – and Freddy’s bizarre art project, involving filming himself pretending to be an infant – preventing us from feeling fully comfortable. The introduction of Bishop (House of Cards’ Reg E. Cathey), a threatening nearby resident, who shuffles through the streets, making inappropriate advances towards Polly, provides the catalyst to shove us from comedy-drama territory into something much darker.
As a result, there’s an intentional unevenness to the whole narrative that could frustrate or thrill – Silva’s own performance, which is unfortunately the weakest of the three (Wiig and Adebimpe are excellent), doesn’t help the slide between genres. Throughout, there’s an interesting undercurrent of gentrification and parenthood, exploring the urge to create life among today’s middle-class, who simultaneously fail to nurture the existing life in their local community. But even in the most effective moments – one confrontation halfway through is genuinely shocking and nail-biting – Nasty Baby resolutely resists being likeable, instead preferring to make its audience as unsettled as possible. Does that make the end product a success or not? It’s hard to say. But either way, it’s a treat to see Kristen Wiig continue to make such unexpected choices. Long may that continue.