For all the controversy, you'd think Gayby Baby was something more offensive than a sensitive portrait of kids growing up.
September 04, 2015
When it comes to creating and nurturing a family, all you need is love. That's the main message Gayby Baby pushes, as encompassing the perspective of those too often told that affection, commitment and forging a life together aren't enough for their unions to be legally recognised. Yes, we're talking about same-sex couples and their children — i.e. those at the centre of many a political and newspaper debate about sexual orientation and lifestyle preferences.
Maya Newell's observational documentary, as inspired by her own upbringing by two lesbian mothers, gently works to refute perceptions about societal structures other than the stereotypical, so-called nuclear unit of a mum, dad and two kids that the suburbs are supposedly founded upon. In a broader sense, that's what the first-time feature filmmaker achieves in her follow-up to TV doco Growing Up Gayby, showing episodic slices of domestic and school life. However, honing in on the details, Newell also crafts a moving look at the experience of adolescence as told from the rarely seen vantage of the young hearts and minds at the centre of it all.
Accordingly, an engaging group of 10- to 12-year-olds monopolise the movie, each united in their age range and stage of maturity, as well as in belonging to families with same-sex parents. Of course, they're brimming with diversity in other ways, namely their hopes, dreams, circumstances and personalities. Gus loves wrestling, much to one of his mothers' dismay, while Ebony is endeavouring to gain acceptance into a prestigious performing arts school. Matt is overcome with difficulties reconciling the teachings of his church with his home life, and Graham is learning to read as he relocates from Sydney to Fiji with his fathers.
The tales their experiences touch upon could tie into many a kid in many a home across Australia, and that's Gayby Baby's strongest element. Gus, Ebony, Matt and Graham aren't different because their parents are gay, though they're needlessly forced to worry that they are. Interweaving political content — including Matt and his mothers meeting then Prime Minister Julia Gillard — helps emphasise the point, albeit with subtlety. The film doesn't focus on shouting an agenda, but rather lets the reality that these families face on a daily basis do the talking.
So skips along a sensitive documentary made with the intimacy and authenticity its topic deserves. That the project was largely crowdfunded demonstrates the desire for on-screen explorations of the subject. That it bubbles over with earnest affection rather than overt statements shows how heartfelt and personal the end product feels. And while there's little that's revolutionary about the filmmaking at play in Gayby Baby, comprised of footage that flits between fly-on-the-wall and chats to camera as it is, the overall result proves as effectively constructed as its content.
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