Precious Cargo in Preggoland

Warning: I’m about to say how much I liked the movie Preggoland, and why. To save yourself a number of spoilers you could just go and see it yourself. At the early show on Saturday night, there were only six people in the audience, three of whom I knew. This should not happen in the spring, to a sweet, smart comedy in the discerning city of Toronto. Oh and by the way, it’s Canadian film. See it!

Here’s why.

Preggoland is about a quirky, screwed-up thirty-something woman who’s living in her Dad’s basement. She can’t seem to get her life together. She engages in some dishonest behaviour, digs herself in too deep, and before you know it she’s almost lost the really, really nice guy.

The plot is not uncommon. A couple of other movies spring to mind immediately. Enough Said, for instance (where the character is old enough to know better) and Take this Waltz, where the subterfuge involves an extramarital affair, and Michelle Williams loses the really really nice guy for good.

Preggoland is also about how badly women can treat teach other in the context of the quintessentially feminine rites of passage. We saw this in Bridesmaids, as well, where Kristen Wiig’s character goes gaga under peer pressure, putting the relationship with the really, really nice guy at stake.

These films all culminate in scenes of pitiful grovelling, where the really, really nice guy has to be placated and life as a single woman is portrayed as the worst possible fate.

Excuse my rant – but seeing these vapid female characters in movies while the real world is offering up such young heroines as Malala Yousafzai, where law schools and medical schools alike are teeming with women endowed with self-discipline and a sense of purpose feels like an insidious new wave of the backlash we have been enduring since the eighties.

(And while I’m at it, let me say a word or two about another common plot, which we see in the Sex in the City Movies and in many episodes of the series. In this variation, a young woman who actually does have her life together ends up almost getting free of a guy who was not good enough for her to begin with, but somehow the blame gets shifted on to her for not forgiving him. Cue the grovelling.)

But Preggoland is different and here’s how. It shows – very affectingly – the forces that motivate the unconsidered behaviour in the first place.

In Preggoland Ruth – played by Sonja Bennett, who also wrote the movie — fakes a pregnancy. The concept seems far fetched, until you see her climbing, hung-over on to a city bus pushing a stroller which she’s taking to a friend. The bags under her eyes, her pale complexion are assumed to have been acquired in the worthy cause of motherhood. We watch her begin — ever so gently — to jiggle the empty carriage.

The film has plenty of laugh-out-loud slapstick, but never departs from the true basis of good comedy, and that’s genuine pain, and in this case, pain that a lot of women share. We are chronically undervalued, period. And women in their reproductive years are assailed with expectations and assumptions – most of them fueled by consumerism – which undermine relationships and obscure anything that might have resembled choice.

Preggoland reminds us that these expectations are not good for anyone – even those who appear to “succeed” in obtaining the perfect family. The film is studded with moments of genuine compassion and connection across the whole spectrum of mothering and these stand in contrast to the emotional violence that happens when people slavishly conform.

There’s smart, hard-hitting irony here, too, as Ruth’s perceived value rises in proportion to the increasingly elaborate prostheses she manages to stow under her shirt. We watch her behaviour change when she’s treated with the respect and kindness she deserved to begin with.

When her ruse inevitably goes south — sure — she almost loses the guy. But she doesn’t grovel. When he doesn’t accept her straight-ahead apology, she reminds him how over-invested he was in her lie to begin with. The film ends, not with a happily-ever-after baby carriage, but with the erstwhile control-freak of a boyfriend literally head-over-heels in love with this complex woman who’s ambivalent about becoming a mother.

Preggoland reminded me of In A World, another coming-out-of-Dad’s basement film written, directed and co-produced by Lake Bell (who also plays the protagonist, vocal coach Carol Solomon). Sure, Carol’s having some trouble growing up, but behind it all is the truly infantile behaviour of her father, who undermines her at every turn. In the end, she wins: the great gig, the nice guy, fair treatment from her father — and some invaluable perspective on what success really means.

Let’s have more of these stories that show respect for the real struggles that women face, and let’s see more from the brilliant and lovely Sonja Bennett.

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