The by-now familiar female slacker at the heart of Jacob Tierney’s Preggoland is devoid of the organic quirkiness that made such a figure so endearing in recent films like Frances Ha, Obvious Child , and Appropriate Behavior. As 35-year-old Ruth, a blond, beautiful, single grocery-store clerk surrounded by female friends and relatives who either just became a mommy or would give anything to become one, screenwriter Sonja Bennett embodies slackness as an affectation, not a raw response to a culture of authenticity-killing productivity. Bennett’s uninteresting attempts at performing mumblecore slackness fail not only because of the ordinariness of the script, but due to her own spotless face. The anti-heroine of such films demands a different kind of physicality—an awkwardness that helps express the character’s conundrum effortlessly. Bennet’s unblemished whiteness (she looks like a young and lucid Anne Heche), propped up by the suspect treatment of the Mexican janitor, Pedro (Danny Trejo), who becomes her unlikely partner in crime, lends no credibility to a role that should accept no vanity, well-conditioned straight hair, or pointy noses.
While Preggoland suggests a critique of our obsession with the idea of “becoming a mother” as the apex of womanhood and its only legitimate denouement, it’s more interested in going through the foreseeable motions of a rom-com outline only using the cultural demand for reducing women to baby-making machines as a storytelling premise. The film mocks over-commitment to motherhood at times, without ever being caustic enough. Ruth’s friends kick her out of their clique for being single and childless, which leads her to pretend that she’s pregnant (fake belly and all). They gush over their babies’ pictures on their iPhones and exchange healthy living tips (honey is natural, and so is cocaine), but instead of pursuing a balls-to-the-wall Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion type of excess, Preggoland is happy to unfold with the anodyne predictability of a kids movie.
Bennett embodies slackness as an affectation, not a raw response to a culture of authenticity-killing productivity.
The film could also have taken the magical-realism route, akin to Jan Svankmajer’s remarkable take on the fantasies of motherhood, Little Otik, in which a woman raises a tree branch-cum-monster as her baby. In fact, the best moment in Preggoland alludes to Svankmajer’s sensibility, when the red Jell-O that makes up the insides of Ruth’s fake belly slowly disintegrates down her dress at her baby shower. The placenta-looking red matter falls down from her body like fecal chunks out of a horse’s behind, splattering on the floor, leading a pet to munch on it and at least one party guest to vomit.
The sense of time in this scene and the unusual lack of a song to tell us what to feel (all we hear is the sound of the excreted chunks of Jell-O hitting the floor) are a relief from Preggoland’s otherwise airtight precision and aesthetic slickness. Like Bennett’s face, the film itself, apart from this one scene of gelatinous evacuation and corporeal betrayal, is too creaseless to bear the supposed gaucheness of its main character. By the time we realize that Ruth’s pregnancy ruse is precisely what liberates her, we know not to take this as her speaking back to a culture that demands zero authenticity from women. Ruth is ready to move out from her father’s basement, but right into prince charming’s arms.