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Nasty Baby

Sundance Film Festival 2015 Review


Killer Films; 101 minutes

Director: Sebastián Silva


Written by on January 26, 2015 




Sebastián Silva is a director who strives for the unexpected. Both premiering at Sundance a few years ago, Magic Magic and Crystal Fairy are wild movies, often veering into strange and dark territory. Even if the tonal or structural gambles don’t always payoff, it’s refreshing to see a filmmaker take those kind of chances. Silva does that yet again with Nasty Baby, which begins as a great romantic comedy that becomes an entirely different beast by the end.

The writer-director stars in the film as Freddy, an artist trying to have a child with his boyfriend, Bo (TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe). Freddy has a lot going on in his life. For one, he’s working on a visual art piece featuring him and his friends acting like babies. Secondly, his sperm count is too low, so he has to convince Bo to let his best friend, Polly (Kristen Wiig), have some of his sperm, so they can have a baby. Thirdly, Freddy has a mentally disturbed and homophobic neighbor, Bishop (Reg E. Cathey), that harasses him and those closest to him.

The first two acts manage to balance all these plot lines with a clear focus to this improvised picture. The film never runs in circles or gets lost in ad-libbing. Silva creates a loose, authentic and warm vibe with immensely charming performances. Nasty Baby features Wiig’s most natural and relaxed performance to date, and Silva and Adebimpe match her authentic screen presence. The love Freddy has for Bo and Polly rings loud and clear, and for good reason — these relationships are completely believable.

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This honest and charming romantic comedy — the relationship between Bo and Freeddy is truly romantic, full of love and support — ultimately ends up following the subplot about Bishop, and it’s a bizarre decision. The tone completely changes and the focus of the story shifts. Kudos to Silva for taking the chance, because no audience member will be able to guess where Nasty Baby goes to.

Because of that drastic change, the third act isn’t as satisfying. Not because it’s different, but because these characters alone can maintain our attention without plot. Once the film becomes more plot-heavy, no longer are we observing these people, but watching them go through the motions of a less engaging story. Technically speaking, the turn is well-executed, but the horror/thriller element isn’t as enchanting as watching these characters simply opening up to each other, having an awkward family dinner, or sharing some pot.

There’s a surreal shot of Freddy starting a fire and a dear in the headlights that would’ve been killer in a full-on horror movie, but they don’t quite fit here. Silva certainly knows how to create an atmosphere, though. Crystal Fairy is a nauseating and funny drug trip of a movie, while Magic Magic digs under the skin with a mix of laughs and terror — and those movies are more successful with their tonal shifts than Nasty Baby.

Thankfully, the third act doesn’t detract from the movie too much. There’s such compassion in this story, and Silva exhibits real range as a writer, director, and actor. While Silva doesn’t land the horror, he has no problem whatsoever with the drama, laughs, and characters.

Nasty Baby premiered at Sundance Film Festival and opens on October 23rd.

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