Sometimes the plainest truths are nestled in the most outlandish absurdities, and so it proves in “Preggoland.” An amusing, extravagantly implausible farce that nonetheless makes a pointed argument about the perceived marginalization of childless women in modern society, Canadian helmer Jacob Tierney’s film shoots for the Judd Apatow-associated distaff appeal of “Bridesmaids,” albeit with a bleaker undertow and dimmer production values. Animated chiefly by the spiky gifts of actress and screenwriter Sonja Bennett — headlining proceedings as Ruth, a thirtysomething supermarket cashier who fakes a pregnancy with inevitably woeful consequences — “Preggoland” recently received a limited release in the U.S., though it’s on alternative platforms that this Toronto fest premiere will most likely come fully to term.
With the “womanchild” character type — the female equivalent of the immature, insolvent, mildly hedonistic man exemplified by Seth Rogen in “Knocked Up” or Mark Wahlberg in “Ted” — a growing presence in mainstream comedy, “Preggoland” joins the likes of Apatow and Amy Schumer’s “Trainwreck” in leveling the scales. Not that this is principally a battle-of-the-sexes story: Though the satire is sometimes directed a little too broadly by Tierney, Bennett’s script bristles with insight into female-on-female prejudice in its most implicit and explicit forms.
“We think you’d be happier if you found friends you have more in common with,” Ruth is told by three of her former pals after she drunkenly disgraces herself at a baby shower. The common element not shared by unapologetic slacker Ruth is clear, though it should hardly be a deal-breaker: She’s the only member of the group who hasn’t yet married and started a family. Early motherhood is here presented as a kind of highly discriminatory members’ club: Those unhip to their talk of trendy strollers and New Age birthing courses are regarded as being a crucial stage behind in life.
Ruth’s formerly fast-living friends welcome her back with open arms, however, when she panics and announces her pregnancy to defuse a potentially mortifying misunderstanding. It’s a lapse in judgment she hopes to rectify immediately, though after living the lie for a mere day, she discovers an unexpected range of advantages to being supposedly pregnant. At the most practical end of the scale, her false condition protects her from being fired by her uptight new boss Danny (Paul Campbell) after a work mishap; at the pettiest, it one-ups her broody Type A sister Hillary (Lisa Durupt, excellent), while earning her preferential treatment from their gauchely loving dad (James Caan). As the benefits pile up, however, so do the ludicrous complications of this obviously unsustainable ruse — even with her shiftless Mexican colleague Pedro (Danny Trejo, extracting stray laughs from the script’s most regrettably regressive character) assisting her in the scheme. When unexpected romance blossoms in the workplace, meanwhile, Ruth finally begins to understand the settling-down impulse.
This turn toward more sentimental romantic comedy territory may seem counter-productive in a film that otherwise rails against the domestically-oriented social expectations still applied to women in many circles. But convention and conformity aren’t quite the same thing; using both male and female characters, “Preggoland” rather sensitively delineates the difference between wanting a family and wanting both the image and the security it presents. (Not coincidentally, the respective husbands of Ruth’s friends are never seen.) That Bennett and Tierney bracket such observations between moderate gross-out gags and manic mistaken-identity antics may devalue them for some viewers, but the ambitious blend of tones certainly gives Bennett a lot to play, and with consistent aplomb: A deft physical comedienne with a neat line in eye-rolling snark, she increasingly sheds such arch defenses as Ruth’s attachment to her deception grows more personal than strategic.
Technical contributions are fine, if a little on the beige side, with Steve Cosens’s widescreen lensing frequently isolating Ruth in the frame as those around her do in real life. On the soundtrack, the narrative’s repeated invocation of CeCe Peniston’s infectious 1991 club hit “Finally” cleverly works either to celebratory or cynical effect, depending on the context of the scene.
Film Review: 'Preggoland'
Reviewed online, May 8, 2015. (In Toronto, Vancouver, Miami, Beijing festivals.) Running time: 109 MIN.
(Canada) A Gravitas Ventures (in U.S.) release of a Mongrel Media presentation of an Optic Nerve Films, Titlecard Pictures production in association with Concept Prods. Produced by Kevin Eastwood, Dylan Collingwood. Executive producers, Robert Mitchell, Ray Fortier, John Chui. Co-producer, Aaron Au.
Directed by Jacob Tierney. Screenplay, Sonja Bennett. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Steve Cosens; editor, Brendan Woollard; music, James Jandrisch; music supervisor, Natasha Duprey; production designer, Caitlin Byrnes; art director, Harry Brar; set decorator, Brodie Kitchen; costume designer, Kathi Moore; sound, Brian Lyster; supervising sound editor, Miguel Nunes; re-recording mixer, Nunes; stunt coordinator, Aaron Au; assistant director, Thomas Balzar; casting, Candice Elzinga.
Sonja Bennett, Paul Campbell, James Caan, Danny Trejo, Lisa Durupt, Jared Keeso, Laura Harris, Carrie Ruschiensky, Denise Jones, Sandy Sidhu, Fabiola Colmenero.