Norwegian director Yngvild Sve Flikke’s sophomore feature spins a familiar premise into something quietly groundbreaking
While the concept of unwanted pregnancy remains a political and social taboo in much of the world, you’d never know it from seeing how frequently it turns up as subject matter in comedies. From the prestige likes of Juno, to more overtly funny efforts like Obvious Child, there are countless films grappling with the emotional weight of the situation that also understand how such an everyday concept might be treated with comic flippancy.
A new addition to this growing canon is Yngvild Sve Flikke’s sophomore feature Ninjababy, which manages to hide a surprisingly groundbreaking approach to the topic beneath a plethora of gags about sex, bodily functions, and everything in between. Our lead character here is Rakel (Kristine Kujath Thorp), a cartoonist who's constantly reprimanded by her best friend for living a life of debauchery. After bumping into a former one-night stand (Nader Khademi) at a karate class, Rakel has the dawning realisation she’s pregnant with his baby.
But things are actually a bit more complicated. After choosing to have an abortion, Rakel discovers that she's actually closer to seven months pregnant and that an earlier friend with benefits – nicknamed “Dick Jesus” (Arthur Berning) – is likely the father. As Rakel sets about on an alternative plan, she soon begins to hallucinate, her sketches of her unborn son coming to life to disapprove of her choice.
A common trope in unplanned pregnancy movies is for the expecting character to eventually warm to the idea of parenthood, contrary to their earlier beliefs. While this is the valid experience of many who find themselves in such a situation, the dominance of this narrative reinforces the idea of a right and wrong way to respond. Ninjababy feels like the rare film to offer an alternative perspective with a refreshing amount of frankness, never critical of its protagonist as she reaches the conclusion that motherhood isn't for her.
Rakel does care about finding a loving home for the baby, though, which leads to many of the film’s best sequences; hijacking a fostering meeting in order to call couples racist for wanting “Norwegian babies,” or realising Dick Jesus shouldn’t be a father after noticing posters with inspirational quotes about marijuana in his kitchen. Flikke’s film has led to inevitable comparisons with Lena Dunham and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, two prominent writers who regularly tackle taboo topics about the female experience with a deadpan vulgarity. But sequences such as these mark out Flikke's film as its own thing: beneath the dark laughs, there's a warm and natural sweetness.
It helps that Ninjababy is also the funniest film of the year, effortlessly mining unexpected belly laughs from a scenario familiar to millions. It takes true skill to make a crowdpleaser out of such well-worn subject matter. Flikke more than delivers.
Ninjababy was screened as part of the Edinburgh Film Festival 2021. A UK release date is yet to be announced.Where to watch