Dark and light is often a hard wire to walk. You have to know how to balance the two without diving too far into either if both is what you wish to accomplish. Sebastian Silva, although his movies always deter from the lightness they start with, has himself in the position of writer, director, and actor in his film Nasty Baby. The film is endearing for the first three-quarters and takes an interestingly dark turn for the remaining quarter that questions the characters and their decisions, as well as the direction of the film.
The title can go both ways in the sense that it is the title of Freddy’s (Silva) art project, where the premise is of him lying around wailing like an infant because it is his own punishment for feeling guilty for not adopting a child but wanting a biological one with boyfriend Mo (Tunde Adebimpe), with the help of Freddy’s friend Polly (Kristen Wiig).
The other meaning of the title is possibly for the film’s turn around about three quarters of the way through, which is slightly a surprise given the tone of the rest of the film. Freddy, Mo and Polly must go through the ups and downs of their decisions as Freddy realizes his sperm isn’t good enough for insemination, all while they avoid the crazy harassing neighbor Bishop (Reg E. Cathey).
Nasty Baby starts off really promising. The lead cast have great chemistry and their characters are interesting and connect with each other well. The tone is light, the comedy random and entertaining, and the issues they deal within the scope of the story intriguing. The setting also feels very organic and natural, and seeing as how some of it is shot in Selva’s own home, it would be hard not to feel so.
The trajectory of the film progresses. We see Freddy the most clearly, his feelings on not being able to give his sperm, his art project, and the fear of harassment by his neighbor taking a toll on him. The film also discusses the need to be accepted and how this acceptance can come from a previously unhappy source and how a supportive family member can fall into speculative judgment and prejudice.
All of these issues keep the film floating the entire time, keeps the audience’s focus without straying because the characters’ situations are sympathetic and interesting. It isn’t until around three-quarters of the way through that the film takes a wildly different turn than what anyone expects and throws everything else out the window. Characters you liked before are now more questionable, you’re torn between sympathizing with their situation and feeling a bit disturbed. The story gets much darker than the way it starts off and you can’t help but feel a bit thrown off. And it’s unclear if this is Silva’s intention or he just thought that the story would naturally get so dark and off-putting. It would have been fine if there had been more of a build-up to it rather than suddenly just happening. Silva is bold in taking risks for his film, but they don’t always pay off in the intended way.
Ultimately, Nasty Baby is a film that is flawed but somehow entertaining for a lot of it. The characters have a lot of energy, are well cast, and have good storylines. The script is also very funny and engaging for the most part. However, it’s when the film goes dark that it tries to do too much and this is where it derails and takes away from the rest of the story, which could have been more heartwarming, subtle and less shocking in its execution. Sebastian Silva has a lot of potential and if he decides to keep more of a focus on the main story, then his future is promising.
Sundance Premiere Date: January 24, 2015 | Screenwriter and Director: Sebastian Silva | Cast: Kristen Wiig, Sebastian Silva, Tunde Adebimpe, Mark Margolis, Alia Shawkat, Reg E. Cathey | Genre: Drama