Putting Baby in the Corner: A Review of Baby Done
Baby Done is a sensitive, charming film that asks whether anyone is ever truly ready to become a parent. Zoe, an arborist, is on her way to qualifying for the world tree-climbing championships when she finds out she’s pregnant by her long-term boyfriend Tim, who is thrilled and eagerly begins nesting. Zoe isn’t so sure. While she does want the baby, she sees parenthood as a burden, and isn’t quite ready to part with her freedom. Terrified of becoming another bland suburban mum like many of her old friends, and desperate to regain some sense of control, Zoe writes a list of every wild thing she wants to do before the baby arrives.
Rose Matafeo is, as always, the strongest of the cast, shining in the role of witty, cynical Zoe. She’s stubborn, competitive and a little manic, and Matafeo proves herself again here as not just an excellent comedian, but an excellent actress. Matthew Lewis is heartwarming as Tim, the fumbling foil to Zoe’s ever-changing moods, and the two have an endearing dynamic.
Throughout the film, Zoe sets about ticking off her list, urging Tim to participate. Tim resists adding anything to the list other than “Try drugs”, but when Zoe pushes him, he cracks, adding “A threesome with you and your best friend Molly!” Zoe is taken aback, but masks any potential for insecurity with excitement – at least now she has a project to distract from her pregnancy, and it makes for one of the film’s funniest scenes. Zoe orchestrates Tim’s fantasy, inviting him to a hotel room where she and Molly, and molly, await him. They begin their tryst, but with Tim reacting badly to the MDMA and Zoe desperately trying to hide her pregnancy from Molly and her pangs of jealousy from Tim, the night quickly turns clumsy.
The film is stacked with cameos from New Zealand’s finest comedians; Kura Forrester and Madeleine Sami as nurses, Alice Snedden as antenatal class instructor, and Rachel House as icy high-school principal all add to the comedy in their one or two scenes. Perhaps the best bit part is Nic Sampson as pregnophile Brian in a surprisingly sweet turn. The constant popping up of recognisable faces does begin to tire, though, and it’s first-time actor Matenga Ashby as Zoe and Tim’s kindhearted teenage apprentice Sonny who serves the story and its comedy best of all. Their relationship with Sonny is the closest thing Zoe and Tim have to experience with kids, and I found myself wanting to see more of that relationship played out.
It’s a smart move to mine the panic of an unplanned pregnancy for its comedic merit. All those natural, relatable fears of first-time parenthood exaggerated into full-blown pregnancy denial is rich material. As a Sagittarius, I understand the terror of committing to a decision you can’t back out of, and having a baby is one of those decisions. Wanting what you can’t have – in this case, both selfish independence and a baby – comes naturally to me. I almost wish the filmmakers had leaned a little more into this dilemma through Matafeo’s obvious dramatic ability rather than habitually reaching for the joke, which doesn’t always land. That being said, I understand the desire to make something fun and funny, and it mostly succeeds. It’s emotionally resonant, too – there’s a scene near the end of the film where all Zoe’s frazzled energy morphs into a serenity that had me tearing up.
The portrayal of a couple that works together mirrors the reality of director Curtis Vowell and writer Sophie Henderson, who conceived of the film as a way to process all the messy, confused feelings of being pregnant with their first child. The resulting script is sweet and quippy, if a little too neat at times, and cements the couple’s place as filmmakers to watch.
For a film about a couple of millennials, it’s worth noting that money is never considered or a concern, and it is assumed this pair of arborists can afford the baby they are about to have. Obviously financial precarity would complicate their situation, but I don’t think it would necessarily demand a heavier tone. It would, however, heighten the stakes. This film is instead relatively low-stakes and lighthearted in a similar vein to other features coming out of Piki Films, the production house behind The Breaker Upperers and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, founded by Taika Waititi and Carthew Neal.
Baby Done is certainly not as challenging or ambitious as the pair’s darker drama, 2013’s Fantail, in which Sophie also acted, but it’s not trying to be. This is a much more commercial effort, with a poignancy that sneaks up on you. That’s the thing: Baby Done is a film with heart. There is a warmth and gentleness to the direction that serves the story well. In a brilliant, understated scene set in iconic Kiwi chain Fruit World, Zoe holds up grapes and lemons to her stomach, contemplating their size. In another moment she hurls baby furniture into a charity clothing bin. It’s in these wordless actions that the film is at its strongest, cleverly illustrating all the apprehension and anticipation that comes with having a baby.