Lesbian pregnancy is one of the queer community’s time-honored clichés. The subject (and the stereotype) has been covered in everything from The L Word to a glut of so-so LGBT films (see: Tick Tock Lullaby, Goldfish Memory) to mainstream TV’s favorite “very special episodes.”
It was therefore almost shocking to find one of the most original, inventive and entertaining lesbian films of recent days in The Baby Formula. While premised on a lesbian pregnancy, the film is really about parenthood, family, and, more broadly, love.
Framed realistically (with just a pinch of sci-fi speculation tossed in), with truly excellent performances by both leads and the strong ensemble cast, it deserves a place on every queer parent’s watch list.
We begin with a close-up shot of two women snuggling on a porch. A documentary director and her camera crew look on, rapt. “Athena wants to have my baby, and I want to have hers,” says Lilith (Megan Fahlenbock), glancing at her partner. “that’s the bottom line. That’s what two people in love want — they want to be involved in the process of creating life.”
“That’s right.” Says Athena (Angela Vint), “I mean, we don’t want to be restricted to having other people’s children. Why shouldn’t we have the chance to make our own babies? Have our own children?”
The dialogue is familiar, playing upon a deep-rooted issue that queer couples often have to wrestle with — the desire to have a biological child. The rawness and honesty of the opening lines sets the scene for the rest of the film, which never once wavers from this gut-level realism.
That is, emotional realism. Athena is pregnant with Lilith’s baby — that’s the reason for the documentary crew. They’ve tried an experimental procedure wherein both women’s DNA went into the baby-making process, meaning that was literally no daddy involved.
Very early on, our documentary crew take us to the lab that made it all possible. Jim (Matt Baram) and Dr. Oldenfield (RD Reid), two affable biologists, guide us through the almost-plausible scenario: they’ve created sperm from stem cells, then used that sperm to impregnate Athena through in-vitro fertilization. Jim is in on the plot (for human testing) more so than Oldenfield is — it is an untested, not-quite-legal procedure after all.
There are a few twists and turns, but most of the film closely follows Athena’s — and we soon realize Lilith’s — pregnancies. A brief fight erupts when Athena finds out that Lilith wanted in on the procedure as well, but it doesn’t take long before things between them smooth out.
From here, we meet Athena’s slimy brother (from whom Lilith originally tried to get sperm) and encounter the whole family, on both sides. In a series of sequences that are very “Meet The Parents,” only with much more gravity and real-world drama, we meet Athena’s religious mother (Rosemary Dunsmore), silent father (Roger Dunn), and gregarious grandma (Jessica Booker). They’re very traditional and buttoned up (except Grandma, who’s the life of the party), and Mom is disapproving of their daughter’s “lifestyle”. She doesn’t take the new science very well, accusing her daughter of “playing God.”
On the other hand, Lilith has two fabulous gay dads, (Hal Eisen and Michael Hanrahan) who really are the life of the party — until we find out a few not-so-savory things about their past. They’re as warm, inviting and accepting as Athena’s mother is cold and downright mean — but they both have a serious alcohol problem.
Both families play a huge part in the second half of the film, where the drama really begins to pile on. The movie actually goes to several unexpected places, deviating far from what a “faux documentary” normally entails. It’s genuinely shocking when things go off the rails for our heroes towards the last third of the film — and gratifying when things do go well.