Comedian Rose Matafeo shines in this charming, poignant and relatable New Zealand film about a woman in denial about her pregnancy.
A relic of a time when women were considered wives, mothers and little else, the public need to comment on whether someone has a baby or is planning to have a baby is flat-out garbage behaviour. In your twenties or thirties, and in a couple? Yet to procreate? If so, the world at large apparently thinks that it's completely acceptable to ask questions, make its judgement known and demand answers. Baby Done offers a great take on this kind of situation. Surrounded by proud new parents and parents-to-be at a baby shower, Zoe (Rose Matafeo) refuses to smile and nod along with all the polite cooing over infants — existing and yet to make their way into the world — and smug discussions about the joys of creating life. An arborist more interested in scaling trees at both the national and world championships than starting a family, she simply refuses to temper who she is to fit society's cookie-cutter expectations. Her partner Tim (Matthew Lewis) is on the same wavelength, and they visibly have more fun than everyone else at the party.
With a title such as Baby Done, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise when this New Zealand comedy soon upsets Zoe and Tim's status quo. She discovers that she's expecting and, while he starts dutifully preparing to an almost unnervingly sensible extent, she also struggles to face the change that's coming their way. At the forefront of Zoe's mind is a phenomenon she has noticed with most of her friends, other than the still single and child-free Molly (Emily Barclay) — who just might be more pregnancy-phobic than she is. When women become mothers, that's often the only way they're seen by the world and themselves. Zoe is also concerned about being forced to put her own dreams on hold. In fact, even as her bump expands and everyone from her doctor to her parents tells her otherwise, she's adamant that she's still heading overseas to climb as many branches in the pursuit of arboriculture glory as she can.
Comedies about the trials and tribulations of parenthood, and of the journey to become parents, are almost as common as people asking "when are you two having kids?" without prompting at parties. But this addition to the genre from director Curtis Vowell and screenwriter Sophie Henderson (both veterans of 2013 film Fantail) approaches a well-worn topic from a savvy angle. Zoe clearly isn't a stereotypical mother-to-be, and doesn't experience the stereotypical feelings women have been told they're supposed to feel about having children — and Baby Done leans into that fact. The role-reversal at the movie's centre really shouldn't feel so refreshing. Neither should depicting a women daring to think that, even though she wants to have a baby, she doesn't want her entire life as she currently knows it to disappear. It also shouldn't stand out that, instead of depicting an impending father who's less than fussed about taking on that responsibility as plenty of previous flicks have, Baby Done focuses on an expectant mother who'd rather carry on as if nothing big is happening — but it does.
In her first lead big-screen role, comedian Matafeo stands out, too. Indeed, it's easy to wonder whether Baby Done would've worked so engagingly and thoughtfully with someone else as its star. In her hands, Zoe instantly feels like a fully realised character that has walked off the street and into the camera's sights — because, even in an obvious comedy that's constantly trying to evoke laughs, its protagonist is always relatable, fleshed out, and the sum of both her clear strengths and overt struggles. That's the kind of balance that the leads in the last female-led, Taika Waititi-produced New Zealand comedy that touched on motherhood, The Breaker Upperers, also perfected. Matafeo has her own presence, however; playing plucky, outgoing and friendly, but also stubborn and wilfully in denial about what she's going through, she could easily (and will hopefully) step out of Baby Done and into a host of other affable and amusing movies.
Understanding that motherhood means different things to different women and subverting the usual gender roles in the process doesn't stop the brightly shot, breezily toned Baby Done from sticking to a largely, sweetly predictable narrative, though. Or, from serving up just as easy-to-anticipate jokes amongst a particularly awkward threesome and a series of encounters with a pregnophile. Neither does Matafeo's excellent efforts, or her also likeable co-stars Lewis and Browning — with the former worlds away from his time as the Harry Potter franchise's Neville Longbottom, and the latter in her second offbeat supporting part this year after Babyteeth. And yet, as the likes of Knocked Up and Juno have shown entertainingly (especially in comparison to tripe like What to Expect When You're Expecting), finding an astute way to tackle a familiar topic really can't be underestimated. Again, Baby Done shouldn't feel like an outlier in its genre. In many ways, it really isn't, in fact. But charting one woman's pregnancy experience, and her backlash to the widely accepted notion that motherhood is the pinnacle of a woman's life, proves poignant and charming more often than not here.