Director: Nina Davenport
Runtime: 108 minutes
Perhaps all of the films are starting to run together. Nina Davenport’s often hilarious and extraordinarily brave First Comes Love finishes a trilogy of very honest films about female friendships. I’m a male, I don’t know what I’m talking about perhaps – and if I were a cynic I’d call this the Bridesmaids effect – but you can read anything into anything and thus we diagnose “film movements.” For me, I had screened First Comes Love after For a Good Time Call… and Frances Ha (a delightful film also screening at TIFF). First Comes Love, by point of view filmmaker Davenport herself, is her bravest film, creating an ensemble around us not only embracing the ethos that it “takes a village to raise a child” but also documenting a shift in modern families. It will be a useful record I think, at least of the here and now, especially in New York City. This is what the dating scene looks like for women in their late 30s and early 40s.
In her late 20s/early 30s, Davenport worked as a wedding videographer, dating a younger man with no interest in commitment, the result was her documentary Always a Bridesmaid. At age 41, she is still not married and for the past 10 years has desired a child of her own. Realizing Mr. Right wasn’t coming around she enlists the advice of her nearest and dearest friends – those that have gone through the experience of by choice becoming a single parent and/or adopting, and her family.
The film is an intimate and often heartbreaking portrait told as only Davenport can: her work is often of a diary or point-of-view sensibility – honest, straightforward and often very funny – as Nina and her best friend and birthing partner Amy end up in “couples therapy”.
Davenport enlists the assistance of her gay friend Eric, who donates his seed with the intention of just doing so, but quickly gets roped in helping out. Also heartbreakingly portrayed is the story of John, Nina’s boyfriend who becomes attached to her son, while their relationship declines due to various factors left off camera. On camera, Nina copes with the death of her mother, and her father – who can’t understand why she chooses to make art verses going to law school like her brothers. Her mom always understood.
First Comes Love exposes so much of the filmmaker, more so than Davenport’s previous work, including her post 9/11 road trip Parallel Lines and her absurdly hilarious political allegory Operation Filmmaker. The film’s focus and structure, often told in voice over or direct interviews in which Nina is not present offers a rare intimacy, her friends become our friends. With regards to the birthing process, the film is perhaps the most realistic portrait of pregnancy with a look behind the scenes, if you will since Stan Brakhage’s Baby Water Window Moving (itself a point of view film) and the prefect antidote to Ricky Lake’s rather bland The Business of Being Born and the awful Jennifer Lopez comedy The Back-Up Plan.
The film traces her birth of her son (who I imagine will continue to have a camera aimed at him, if Davenport continues to make films) from the moral decision to proceed, the science involved and finally the support structure. It’s an instantly likable crowd-pleaser at times on par with something with a Judd Apatow-produced work. Think Girls, only 15 years later and with additional heartbreak. First Comes Love is scheduled to play on HBO, but if the Bridesmaid effect is indeed a real thing perhaps it’ll find itself with a much deserved theatrical release.
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