Friday 8 April 2016

Nasty Baby by Sebastián Silva - Review

Nasty Baby is a child that is, at first, difficult to love. More of a sneered snapshot of self-entitled NY hipster life than a rounded story, the film is driven by deliberately unlikeable characters; one-dimensional personalities who care for little other than themselves. A loose construct with handheld camera and improvised dialogue highlight their seemingly easy lives, and one feels one is watching really nothing very much at all, particularly given the muted tone to the film’s palette. Yet, there are layers to this social satire, and the insidious effect of central character Freddy’s (writer-director Sebastián Silva) brazen narcissism in the opening scene unexpectedly draws you in to observe more complex matters of class division, prejudice, and homophobia.

The premise hangs on Freddy’s best friend Polly (Kristen Wiig) and her want for a baby. ‘Want’ is the operative word; Polly’s militant organisation of the artificial insemination required is merely a hurdle to surmount for the end goal that she shows no motherly desire for, while Freddy, designated donor, is looking forward to an extension of himself and the opportunity to mark his success by filming a video installation starring himself as a gurgling newborn. It is unfortunate that Freddy’s sperm count is too low, but the gallery director thinks his ‘Nasty Baby’ project looks terribly interesting, so he is still able to focus on himself, while boyfriend Mo (Tunde Adebimpe) is pressured to step in with better sperm—great for Polly, who is pleased with the idea of being on trend with a black baby.

It’s a reasonably funny plotline that could easily be envisaged as a sitcom, but Silva is not going for laughter; rather, he prefers to present these self-absorbed characters for judgement, not empathy. The naturalistic style he chooses complements this intention perfectly, making for believable portrayals of casual, everyday arrogance. When the film’s statement on class division comes into play, it is therefore all the more credible; this is real life, where people like Freddy and Polly wouldn’t entertain the thought of considering The Bishop, an intimidating but mostly harmless local who has mental illness, as on their social par. Further prejudice is highlighted when Mo’s naturally pregnant sister expresses scorn over the notion of him, as a gay man, being a father.

Silva wisely omits soundtrack for the vast majority of the film, which enhances the discomfort of an underlying tension that grows as the friends’ bubble is confronted by The Bishop. But the strongest factor to Nasty Baby is the performances. Wiig in particular is excellent and ambles along with her expectations, while Silva is effective in his more desperate vainglory. It’s the latter that Nasty Baby comes to play upon, as Freddy’s world falls apart and the film moves to a genuinely shocking climax that jars the senses. Ultimately, the conclusion is up to the viewer. Does Freddy feel self-pity, realising that life will no longer revolve around him, or regret? The former is most likely, and cuts loose any sympathy the viewer may have gained for him.

Review by Naila Scargill

Nasty Baby. USA 2015. Directed by and starring Sebastián Silva. Also starring Kristin Wiig, Tunde Adebimpe...

Out in the UK in cinemas and VOD today.

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