Wednesday 16 March 2022

On demand: "Ninjababy"

The Norwegian comedy Ninjababy is Messy Women: Unplanned Pregnancy Edition. Our cartoonist heroine Rakel (Kristine Kujath Thorp) presents her messy credentials early, being seen - gasp! - having a poo (and graffiti-ing the toilet wall while she does); she tells her flatmate she once slept with a guy because he smelled like butter; she also lets slip she hasn't had a period for six months. This is the kind of everyday bodily detail Rakel is prone to shrug off in her ongoing pursuit of a good time; you, me and co-writer/director Yngvild Sve Flikke (adapting Inga H. Sætre's graphic novel Fallteknikk) know better, of course. (The film's called Ninjababy because the baby in question creeps up on the protagonist.) From the off, Flikke finds disarmingly funny rhythms to tell this tale. If it's not the way she cuts between scenes - unpredictably, even recklessly, in ready sympathy with Rakel - it's the way her characters talk within them: awkwardly at first, struggling to find the words that match their inner selves, then with no filter whatsoever. Told that he may be the father, despite having used copious birth control at the time, aikido teacher Mos (Nader Khademi) blurts out "That's a twist"; when Rakel lets on her plans to have an abortion, the best Mos can manage is "That's another one". (The sequence lands as it does because of Khademi's essential Mos-ness: how many Moses have you known who haven't been ever so slightly dopey in some way?) There's another twist still: Rakel is in fact six-and-a-half months pregnant, which means it can't be Mos's baby, and carries her some crucial distance past the legal limit for termination in Norway. Oopsie.

On paper, the story is that of a young woman learning to live with the consequences of her own actions - to finally see something through, perhaps to grow alongside the handful of cells in her belly. The danger would be if Ninjababy leant into the reap-what-thou-sow conservatism lurking at the heart of this premise: if it proved punitive rather than forgiving, and thus emerged as readymade for appropriation by the latter-day religious right. The good news for the rest of us is that Flikke, plainly, gives zero fucks whatsoever about placating those cranks and gasbags. Rakel is rather stuck with a problem she doesn't want (as she shrugs to her own half-sister, a potential adoption candidate, "I'm just trying to get rid of it"); as illustrated by her disastrous effort to crash a prospective parents' group, she's wholly scornful of New Age mommy culture. Flikke uses those rhythms to mix and mess this story up: her finger's not wagging so much as tickling us and flipping the bird to everybody else. For one thing, Rakel's own doodles come to life, advising her like Jiminy Cricket did Pinocchio: these can be as blunt as black-marker etchings on a lavatory wall, or as (comparatively) sophisticated as the stopmotion cutout used to visualise sex during childbirth from the foetus's perspective, which really will be one in the eye for any pearl-clutchers out there.

I whisper this, deep as we are into this particular awards season, but Kujath Thorp actually struck me as a more convincing messy woman, both in the fumbly flashbacks and the present-day misadventures, than The Worst Person in the World's headgirl-ish Renate Reinsve. She's something like Kimmy Schmidt if the latter had spent her captivity nurturing a deleteriously confrontational attitude to the world, a desire to do the thing that is not done in polite society. Flikke has great fun dressing her up for meetings with medical pros and adoption officials, only to watch as time and again the character blurts out some utterance that kills any constructive conversation dead. There's one curious plot omission: Rakel's own parents, neither mentioned nor seen. It's as if to formulate an alternative model of parenting, the film decided to write pre-existing structures out of the picture altogether. (The two can co-exist!) And even with that choice, Ninjababy can't help but tumble into one more conventional narrative cycle: the last-reel dash to the maternity ward that precipitates a big decision. Otherwise, it remains a film not of grand gestures but passing, appreciably casual observation; the biggest decision Rakel takes is reached on a bench outside the hospital on a dreary, nothingy sort of afternoon. That's truer to real life than anything in, say, Mamma Mia!, a phenomenon Ninjababy gleefully razzes en route to its destination. Flikke's trick is to shepherd all this bungled, shuffling, humdrum and yet recognisably human interaction into a worldview you could well label feminist, affirming as it does a woman's right to choose as late in the day as she likes with an exasperated sigh and a few colourful epithets. The movie creeps up on you, too.

Ninjababy is now available to stream via All4, and to rent via Curzon, Prime Video and YouTube.

No comments:

Post a Comment