There’s a sight gag at a pivotal moment in Preggoland involving a baby shower, a dog, operatic music and Jello that immediately registers as one of the more inspired comedic set-ups in recent memory. It is also one of the very few gags that transcends the film’s sitcom trappings while also finessing the outrageous and the darkly funny, two tones that Jacob Tierney’s film aims for yet routinely misses. A few months from now, when looking back at Preggoland – not to be confused with Prego, another film coming out in limited release this week – it will be the first (and likely only) scene that comes to mind.
The Canadian comedy, shot against the cloudy backdrop of suburban Vancouver, tells the story of Ruth Huxley, played by Sonja Bennett (also the film’s screenwriter). Ruth has a low-paying job as a grocery store clerk but no boyfriend, something that wouldn’t register as a problem until you consider that she is in her mid-thirties. The rest of her childhood friends have started families or are about to, leaving them too fatigued to leave the house after dinner. For weeknight fun, Ruth has to rely on drinking, smoking and fraternizing with co-workers half her age.
After a baby shower turns awry – another of the film’s priceless gags involves a mistimed swing at a piñata – Ruth tries to rebound from her lewd behavior by buying a pregnant friend an $800 stroller. However, after pedalling that stroller through the park prompts a misunderstanding, Ruth decides to make up that she is, well, with child. That’s good news for dad Walter (James Caan), often dismayed by how Ruth has not yet moved out of the house but who craves being a grandfather. It is also bad news for sister Hillary (Lisa Durupt), trying to conceive a child of her own.
Preggoland is a 110-minute movie based off of a flimsy premise that one soon realizes cannot end well for the fibbing protagonist. The film more often resembles the first season of a cancelled television sitcom: it moves in fits and starts, while packing in a lot of situational sight and verbal gags that rarely hit the funny bone. The usual character suspects of suburban comedy on the small screen all show up. Beyond the disapproving father and hysterical sibling, we get Danny (Paul Campbell), the strict boss hiding a gooey center, and Pedro (Danny Trejo), the film’s token ethnic character who is too often used as a receptacle for cruel jokes that showcase his aloofness and casual criminality.
The attempts at comedy, meanwhile, may have worked better if another actor had been cast as Ruth. However, the deal was that if character actor Sonja Bennett writes the screenplay, she gets to headline her own story. Bennett, who looks like a younger Laura Linney, has the deadpan demeanor to mirror the film’s more cynical attitude to motherhood, but none of the brazen energy inherent to the protagonist she created. Ruth is a reckless woman who walks around imbibing from a flask shaped like a cell phone, can’t afford bus fare and thinks a purple dildo is an appropriate gift for a girlfriend. Bennett is not entirely convincing in these early scenes and struggles to find a danger or disobedience that she never quite expresses.
Preggoland also suffers from two other words beginning with the letter “P.” The first is plodding, since it never quite finds a stable comedic rhythm. The second is predictable: not only is the eventual destination of this faked pregnancy certain doom, but one can see the film’s chief romantic interest coming from the second he appears onscreen. Future complications involving Ruth’s snobby sister, enthused by the thought of having kids, are also obvious.
On the bright side, despite some familiar plot developments, it is refreshing to see a film that doesn’t end with its protagonist having a complete about-face. In the first scene, Ruth has to feign enthusiasm for her friend’s upcoming maternity. The story doesn’t make an effort to change how horrified the character is of societal pressures to become a wife and mother. Meanwhile, Bennett’s screenplay allows a lot of room for its female characters to talk, joke and be flawed, fascinating women. The chemistry between Bennett and best buds Deb (Carrie Ruscheinsky) and Cherry (Denise Jones) is strong, and some of the film’s only laughs comes from their giddy camaraderie. There is no question that Preggoland passes the Bechdel Test.
Another positive here is that the film does not look like your usual romantic comedy. Tierney, best known for directing the hit Canuck comedy The Trotsky in 2010, mutes the bright colors and peppy tone more typical for the genre, filling the outdoor scenes with chilly grey skies and laying off of the pop music cues (with the exception of one CeCe Peniston tune that becomes a running gag). Still, even though Tierney’s direction is mostly solid and Preggoland‘s dramatic core is in tact, it rarely manages to hit the sweet spot with comedy, struggling to balance dark humor with broad, sitcom-like predicaments. Well, except for the one at the baby shower with the Jello and the dog – that one’s simply hilarious.
Preggoland opens in theatres on May 8th.
Preggoland is a pale, predictable comedy that makes one laugh and feel too rarely, despite the best efforts of a strong ensemble.