Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 03, 2023 3:21 pm 
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"The tightly scripted world of a vlogger and influencer unravels after she becomes a mother, in noted playwright Bess Wohl's feature debut"

This horror-comedy about a new mother who becomes delusional - definitely not a movie to be watched by new mothers or anyone near them - is intermittently funny or scary, but might work better if it relied more on our imaginations and less on conventional shock-horror effects.

Bess Wohl's debut film, which she wrote and directed, is good-looking and has a great cast, but like a lot of movies today its insecurity about itself (and need to "illustrate" everything) spoils things, and its focus isn't as clear as it needs to be to unroll successfully. The topic is motherhood, obviously, and how it's not as idyllic as it's (sort of) depicted as being. (Is it though, anyway?) Or it this about postpartum depression morphing into postpartum delusion? Is it a psychological portrait, a horror film, or a satire? One never knows. And so there are good moments but they never quite jell into a satisfying whole.

The setup with Josephine (Portrait of a Lady on Fire's Noémie Merland) as an obsessively precise French-born vlogger whose self-image of perfection is undermined by the messiness of having a newborn in the house is one in which little subtle shifts might be powerful. But proceedings are frequently interrupted by sudden moments of fantasy horror. One particularly gruesome one early on has Jo waking up next to husband Spencer ("Game of Thrones'" Kit Harrington) and thinking the dog is just finishing up making a meal of baby Ruby. A simple misunderstanding, and the flesh gnawed on by the pet canine was provided by Spencer, an artisanal butcher, it turns out.

The doctor (Reed Birney) and the stepmother (Jayne Atkinson) are pivotal and again unevenly treated. Stepmom seems cloying and oppressive, but then delivers a (too on-the-nose) monolog explaining how as Spencer's baby-mom she too had murderous thoughts, etc. This could work better in a more straightforward, restrained piece where this speech unfolded as more of a slow-burn surprise. Instead, it seems too much expected. It seems the doctor functions well enough by simply being conventionally reassuring. But then when Jo tells him Ruby already has teeth and bites, he becomes menacing too.

The ironically even-more-perfect littler gang of young local moms also provide mixed messages, though that may be deemed logical and part of some kind of progression. At first they seem too pretty and serene when Jo is so disturbed by Roby's crying she dare not publish photos of the baby on her vlog. Later they admit they're stressed too. But this moment of truth falls a bit flat. It could be funnier. The scene where all the young moms are running with their prams and pass Jo, also pram-jogging, on a country road is one visual that is quite amusing by itself.

The reliance on visual shocks rather than slow psychological reveals means there is less material than there might have been. The pic hence doesn't have much to offer once the full-on delusional point has been reached and acknowledged. Nonetheless, the package satisfies well enough for Magnolia to have purchased the film.

Baby Ruby, 93 mins., debuted at Toronto (Discovery Section) Sept. 9, 2022, scheduled for US release Feb. 3, 2023.
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