Nasty Baby full movie review - Silva pilots a ship he doesn't know how to steer until it's too late
Nobody can say writer/director/actor Sebastián Silva lacks creativity and ingenuity as a young filmmaker.
His film Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus, while being frustratingly quirky and an overall unpleasant experience for me years back, did show that Silva had a talent for concocting pretty bizarre scenarios with an ethereal vibe in their cinematography. Silva's latest directorial effort, Nasty Baby, comes very close in giving off the same kind of young, upstart filmmaking tendencies of Jay and Mark Duplass, but it's a film that gets bogged down by a serious sense of misguided direction in its third act that almost makes the film's pillars collapse under the weight of its incredulity.
Spoiling the film would be criminal, so expect me to dance around the events with great detail. The story revolves around a European immigrant named Freddy (played by Silva, who also wrote the film, as well) and Mo (Tunde Adebimpe), a gay couple who are trying to have a child of their own and enlist in the help of Polly (Kristen Wiig) to be their surrogate mother. This wouldn't be such a chore, but due to Freddy's low sperm count, his numerous attempts to impregnate Polly have resulted in nothing but frustration. Freddy is also a prolific actor and starving artist, and his latest project is a short film titled "Nasty Baby," which will show him portraying a screaming infant (just when I thought Mark Duplass's role in Creep that had him making a video for his unborn son to enjoy was the peak of strange).
The bane of the trio's existence comes in the form of a mentally ill neighbor they know as "The Bishop" (Reg E. Cathey). Despite their acts of kindness, "The Bishop" continuously bothers them with his erratic and unpredictable behavior, going as far as almost sexually assaulting Polly in broad daylight. "The Bishop," while initially seeming like a petty character in the lives of these three, consistently finds himself being a common problem as they try to go about their daily lives unbothered, especially given the stressful circumstances they're currently facing.
Nasty Baby is a film that works largely because it's free-form and unwilling to conform to a discernible plot for much of its runtime. It admirably rejects form, and that makes it easy to believe that this is a film about three realistic characters that are simply going about their days. The vibes the film gives are so natural and nuanced that even the quirkiness of Freddy making a video of him acting infantile is a believable inclusion, despite its most illogical entrance into whatever remnants of a plot this film bears.
Nasty Baby's issue comes when it decides to introduce a plot - a considerably dark and sad one, at that - late in its third act. It's as if, in that very moment in his screen writing, Silva forgot to really introduce a bigger, more identifiable conflict for his characters, and as a result, the final twenty minutes of the film feel very forced and rushed in attempting to introduce, remedy, and eventually solve the newly introduced problem for their characters. Had Silva stopped dawdling with the screenplay and introduced this conflict earlier, maybe at the fifty-minute mark, this film could've been the best of both worlds - a largely free-form exercise in indie, LGBT filmmaking, in addition to a compelling black comedy/drama.
Instead, this feels like a film that doesn't really find its very real problem or identity until it's too late to really leave a meaningful impact. The overall effect of introducing such a huge and potentially life-altering situation to the characters with only about twenty minutes left in the film not only is unfair to the film's characters, but the audience members, who will undoubtedly emerge feeling a sense of disconnectedness and discomfort thanks to a film showcasing such a monumental event before solving it and cleaning it up like it was nothing at all.
With all that in mind, Nasty Baby is just sporadically funny enough to be deemed a comedy, and wisely punctuated by enough sadder or more dramatic moments to also fittingly earn the title of a drama. Silva's quirky narrative, for the most part, doesn't get the best of him, and the trio of performances from the main cast is particularly strong, with the standout being Wiig in another performance that needs just the right amount of eccentricity and humanity to make it work (see Adventureland and The Skeleton Twins for her other strong performances at playing smart, if disconnected). This is a film that works marginally well for the most part of its runtime, teetering on the edge of silliness and sophistication until the point where it reaches its climactic arc, which should've been its second major conflict throughout. At that point, we see that Silva has been piloting a ship that he knows how to operate but doesn't really know how to steer and doesn't find out until the ship has sailed well past it's destination.
Starring: Sebastián Silva, Tunde Adbimpe, Kristen Wiig, and Reg E. Cathey. Directed by: Sebastián Silva.