The Limits of Friendship: Raw Realism in NASTY BABY

Nasty Baby. 2015. Directed & Written by Sebastián Silva.
Starring Sebastián Silva, Kristen Wiig, Tunde Adebimpe, Reg E. Cathey, Mark Margolis, Agustín Silva, Alia Shawkat, Lillias White, Anthony Chisholm, Marsha Stephanie Blake, William Oliver Watkins, Constance Shulman, & Neal Huff. Fabula/Funny Balloons/Versatile.
Rated 14A. 101 minutes.
Drama

★★★★1/2
POSTER I’ve only ever seen Sebastián Silva’s work in Magic Magic, which I actually enjoyed a lot. There was a mix of genre elements that went together very well, creating equal parts drama, psychological horror, and thriller. So it’s interesting to see watch he does with Nasty Baby; a film that begins with a beautifully dramatised situation, full of tension and character development, then slowly transitions into a totally different piece of cinema by the end. Ever a fan of films that twist through different genres throughout a screenplay, I found this entire movie compelling from start to finish. Silva weaves us into the lives of three ordinary people, in an increasing modern situation, and then savagely shifts us into a different gear, descending the audience into an unthinkable moment of tragedy.
But what I love even more are a strong trio of performances from Silva, Kristen Wiig, and Tunde Adebimpe. Each of them keep the film grounded by rooting this story in such a human atmosphere. Alongside their talent is the almost raw, very natural cinematography of Sergio Armstrong, which helps us live with these characters in their world.
Pic1 Three close friends – a gay couple Freddy (Sebastián Silva) and Mo (Tunde Adebimpe) with their friend Polly (Kristen Wiig) – try to have a baby. Freddy especially is almost obsessed with the idea. He is an artist, also working on a new exhibit titled “Nasty Baby”, and seems determined to the bone for he and Mo to have a child together. Meanwhile, Polly feels the never ending disappointment each time they try, and it starts to take a toll on her, too. However, they all try and stick together through it all.
A man on the street named Bishop (Reg E. Cathey) constantly comes into contact with the three friends. Freddy consistently gets into confrontations with him, ranging from friendly to a bit more aggressive, though, Mo tries to keep him calm. Eventually, after Bishop scares Polly, things get more tense. And soon a situation rears its head which neither of them could have ever predicted.
The shining point of this film is its writing and the performances. Not enough movies are being made outside of the system concerning couples and situations which go beyond heteronormativity. Here is a tale of two men in love and their mutual good friend, navigating a relationship that’s not necessarily what the average person sees as “normal”. But it isn’t about trying to normalise, or to try pushing an agenda, or anything like that. This story gives us a glimpse into a situation many couples face, whether straight or gay. So the beginning starts us out in this incredibly relateable situation where anybody can engage, which soon enough drags us into the terror of the main characters at what builds from their actions. The character development in this screenplay makes for well-rounded portrayals at the hands of the actors, as I never once questioned the reasoning for an event; everything in the plot here felt organic, growing out of the characters, their decisions, as well as the things happening around them.
Furthermore, I always love movies which build and build with little bits that come into play at different times – things that you might feel won’t play a large part in later events – amounting to an explosive situation which is loaded with many angles, many moments to look back on and analyze. Such is the spiral of the final half hour in Nasty Baby. I saw a version of what happened coming, only I never saw it happening the way Silva writes it. Great lingering finale that stuck with me a long while.
Impressive performances from the lead trio help this story latch on. Wiig has casually slid into more dramatic roles as time goes on, and truthfully, she feels perfectly suited for these performances. Her character Polly in Nasty Baby is an honest portrayal of a real person, as are the characters of Freddy and Mo, played by Silva and Adebimpe. Wiig brings out the personality of Polly in such a sweet way, as she moves from personable and funny to serious and grounded. Both Silva and Adebimpe have great chemistry as a couple. Whereas Freddy is hot-headed and sort of wild at times, Mo represents the calmer of the two, trying to keep his man on track while also not being too abrasive. They make for a perfect relationship onscreen. Also, Silva’s performance as Freddy makes the shocking events later on come off as scary and brutal, yet not altogether surprising. Add to these three a solid supporting performance by Reg E. Cathey as Bishop, to the man on the street – he does a fascinating job in a lot of roles (I loved him specifically on Oz). Here, Cathey gives us a solid character, who we may not always like, but either way feel terrible for in the end. A perfect cast of characters for this intriguing, weird little indie film.
Pic3 An amazing plot makes Nasty Baby so impressive overall. Silva made the three main characters believable. In smaller indie films like this that is a key to drawing people into things. Particularly when this is a very real story. This isn’t a genre film, it’s a drama that leans heavily into a subtle thriller. In the final twenty minutes, what began as a romantic story mixed with the bond of a strong friendship becomes an altogether different film that spins into thriller territory and keeps the viewer locked to the screen. The relationship between the characters becomes fractured and strengthened at once. There’s a really poignant, subtle moment after the trio wake up in bed together, and they experience the morning – the first one after the event which changed their lives. As they walk down the street together, silent, there’s an air hanging over them that seems like it will never lift. This whole situation, the scene after, frames the event which changed them in a terrible fashion, which can be seen through the eyes of Freddy just before the cut to black. Not everyone will dig the ending, but there are so many loaded questions behind it, as well as the entire film: how do we justify ourselves as being fit parents, and who makes that choice? Not only that – which lives are worth more than others, or is that ever true?
Pic5 4-and-a-half stars. Absolutely an intelligent, subdued bit of indie cinema. The crossing of genres works, despite what other reviews tell you. Sure, you go in expecting something different, but what comes out of the organic story and the plot will command your attention. The portrayals of three people trying their hardest to make a life is juxtaposed against the amazingly heavy twists of the plot. Everything comes together in the head, as Silva crafts an interesting bit of life into raw power. Try this one out, give it a chance. One of my favourites from 2015.

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