Title: Nasty Baby
Director: Sebastian Silva
Starring: Sebastian Silva, Kristen Wiig, Tunde Adebimpe, Alia Shawkat, Mark Margolis, Reg E. Cathey
A film with a title like Nasty Baby can go in a lot of different directions, and most of them are not promising or ideal. Sebastian Silva, who directed one of Sundance’s weirdest entries from 2013, Crystal Fairy, casts himself in a story that chooses to define its title in two ways. One involves a gay man whose partner may be a better match than him to be a sperm donor to help his straight female friend have a baby. The other, which is far more bizarre, is the name of Silva’s character’s performance art, which involves him pretending to be a baby and making crying noises. It’s an odd start, to be sure, and, for at least its first two acts, this film manages to succeed despite some truly strange elements of a far more normative story.
Freddy (Silva) lives in Manhattan with his boyfriend Mo (Tunde Adebimpe). Freddy is first introduced describing the content of Nasty Baby and how he plans to be naked on an infinite black background crying like a baby. The visiting curator reacts positively, almost assuring the audience that this film will not be as strange as it initially seems. Freddy’s non-work life is less outlandish but still somewhat complicated, as his best friend Polly (Kristen Wiig), desperate to have a baby, has abandoned hope of Freddy’s sperm working and pressures him to ask Mo on her behalf to be the father. Though he is put off by her aggressive attitude, Mo does like Polly, and this trio has a truly interesting and watchable relationship.
The main characters here – Freddy, Polly, and Mo – are extremely well-written, and the performers portraying them make them even more dynamic. Freddy is an enthusiastic artist who has a casual attitude towards life but also lets little things upset him greatly to the point of being belligerent when nothing is done to change them. Polly is sweet and funny, but it is clear that her desire to be a mother overwhelms everything else. Mo is soft-spoken and sincere, and he has accepted his role in Freddy and Polly’s friendship and done a good job of finding a place in that unbreakable bond. Two familiar faces from television, Mark Margolis and Reg E. Cathey, occupy supporting roles completely opposite to their TV alter egos from Breaking Bad and House of Cards, respectively, Margolis as a temperamental but kindhearted older neighbor and Cathey as a coarse neighbor with clear mental problems.
The cast is solid, and the premise is too, and that keeps the film going for its first hour or so. After that, however, the film takes a puzzling and inexplicable turn that transforms its genre completely. The transition is not smooth and diminishes the effectiveness of this film considerably. A decent piece of a smartly-written film with interesting characters suddenly becomes something that is nowhere near as compelling, and hard to trace back to what came before it. Silva, Wiig, and Adebimpe are capable of handling complex material and delivering serious performances, a boon specifically for Saturday Night Live alum Wiig, but they cannot help this film from going off the rails and turning into something unrecognizable and undesirable.
This Sundance NEXT entry has held several public screenings in Park City thus far, with two more scheduled.
Written by Abe Fried-Tanzer