SXSW ‘Ninjababy’ Review: This Fun, Emotional Film About Unplanned Pregnancy Kicks Expected Tropes In The Ass!
Normally, when I am sleep-deprived, I am not a very nice person to be around. But because my condition is because I am attending the SXSW Film Festival, and I’ve seen some fantastic feature films, short films, documentaries and episodic pilots, I’m actually surprisingly pleasant. And of all those ah-mazing films, the one that kicks ass best, according to me, is filmmaker Yngvild Sve Flikke’s Norwegian film Ninjababy, a very fresh take on unplanned pregnancies which brings in animation and comedy and throws out sexist tropes, to be truly feminist in its message. Ninjababy is written by Johan Fasting, edited by Karen Gravås, shot by Marianne Bakke. The film stars Kristine Kujath Thorp, Arthur Berning, Nader Khademi, Tora Christine Dietrichson, Sylya Nymoen and Herman Tømmeraas voicing the Ninjababy. The music is by Kåre Vestrheim.
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What’s Ninjababy about?
You know how you read all these news items about women unexpectedly giving birth in toilets without even knowing that they were pregnant all along? Believe it or not, that is actually legit. Some women don’t have their bellies swelling too much or have morning sickness and the other usual symptoms that most expecting mothers do. You’d think they’re lucky to dodge all these annoying things, but if you say that to Rakel, the protagonist, she’d probably ninja kick your face.
Having spent an unusual amount of time (even by her standards) on the toilet, and thanks to her roommate’s suspicions, Rakel takes a pregnancy test which turns out positive. There’s panic, and then a Mamma Mia-like confusion about who the father of the baby is. Is it Aikido-Mos, the sweet and gentile aikido senpai who gave Rakel the most insane of orgasms (Ah, so lucky!)? Or is it Pikkjesus—Dick Jesus in English, if you will—the immature fuckboy who Rakel just can’t say not to, with the only grown thing about him being his… umm… dong.
Once it is determined that it is the latter, Rakel thinks an abortion will solve her problem. She’s a struggling cartoonist, and even though all she does is doodle all day, sit on the toilet, have sex and just generally chill, she doesn’t want to give it all up to be a mother so soon! Alas, she isn’t just preggers, she is six weeks pregnant, with barely a baby bump! And since you cannot legally terminate a pregnancy after 24 weeks, Rakel is going to have a baby, y’all!
Of course, she could always put it up for adoption, or better yet, convince her step-sister, Mie, to adopt it. Rakel could be the cool aunt then. She needs to talk it out with someone. And as if on cue, one of her doodles, a literal baby ninja, jumps off the paper and into her very vivd imagination, to help her realise her own emotions—about herself, what she wants to do with her life, her baby and a chance at love.
Ninjababy is like Juno getting a stylised upgrade for the new generation with a refreshing subversion of tropes
If you are a 90s kid, and want to think of movies about unplanned pregnancy, there are few cult ones that’ll come to your mind—Kya Kehna, Knocked Up and Juno. Flikke’s Ninjababy could easily serve to be an upgraded version of Juno for the times we live in. But what I love about Ninjababy, and why it makes such an apt custodian for coming-of-age films about unplanned pregnancies is that it beautifully subverts tropes to present a refreshing, rather feminist narrative devoid of any sexism. It pretty much ninja kicks them in the ass, if I may say so!
Rakel is not overly emotional and we see her lose it only towards the very end. Rakel’s decision to be worried about her baby, but still not wanting to be a mother, and even then make a decision for her baby’s life that would require a mother’s courage are indicative of how attuned the makers are to women’s emotions. Even the whole expected plot point of putting the baby up for adoption is handled in a very non-dramatic, understated way. I guess it begins with Rakel’s inconspicuous baby bump setting the tone for how subtle the film is going to be with what it is trying to say.
Sex gets a makeover too, with an emphasis on female pleasure. A lot of people, without proper sex education, might find it too much to see a woman in her third trimester having sex. In one particular scene, we see Rakel lying awake in bed, with Mos sleeping beside her, holding her protectively, but still looking much smaller than her, as if trying to say he’d help her every step of the way, but the big decisions will be Rakel’s alone.
The way the movie uses comedy on several occasions to flip stereotypes. There’s an utter lack of gentleness and emotional or physical tiptoeing around ‘Rakel the pregnant woman’ and it makes for such a welcome change. Finally, I won’t spoil it for you, but the biggest boo-yah to sexist tropes happens in the end, and I love it.
Also Read: SXSW ‘Hysterical’ Review: Hilarious, Incisive, Heartbreaking Account Of Women In Comedy, That Extends Beyond The Stage
I’d like to think the film’s emotional and visual progression is like a pregnancy
A huge nod first to the film’s production design, which made every place, from Rakel’s messy home to Dick Jesus’s bachelor pad, look so in sync with these characters and what was happening in the film.
Now it could be just me but it felt like the way the film’s acts were written and shot, and the emotions experienced by Rakel were progressing like in a pregnancy. The first act, like the first trimester barely registers and you’re having fun acclimatising to Rakel’s world and her quirks and the people in her life. In the second one, things get a little more obvious, but we’re still thinking, “Oh the baby is a while away,” and no one’s too worried yet. And then the third act is like the third trimester, where it’s finally started to sink in how serious this is, shit’s hitting the roof, there are responsibilities to be accepted and choices to be made and everyone’s panicking.
Finally the baby’s delivered and even though it is not as simple as being easy or difficult, it’s just a different kind of relief and peace. Everything just sorts out on its own and we’re back to the leisurely pace of storytelling we began with, albeit it’s got an air of zen.
The animation is so beautifully integrated into the film, and is an essential narrative tool, not just for show
I LOVE the whimsy that the animation brings in and how it so seamlessly merges into the film’s very real settings. The sound design makes the transition even smoother, like that one scene when Rakel is in the hospital, upset, and you can hear the sound of the rain before the doodle even springs into action. It feels like you can understand that it is an outward element making the sound but it’s still very much integrated with what’s happening with the very real characters.
The biggest win that Ninjababy scores is, according to me, the Ninja baby itself. The doodle baby is so darn cute and funny and instantly likeable. It is the banter between Rakel and Ninjababy that gives the film its beating heart and makes it come alive for us. The baby despite being designed as an infant, looks and sounds so mature. Which is really something. I mean, I have soft toys and bears at home, and if ever, I pretend to voice them, I can never not baby talk! I think it was a clever way of projecting Rakel’s own thoughts out for us to understand instead of giving her monologues or long pensive moments. That’s not really her.
And for the moments that the Ninjababy is not around, there are her other doodles taking care of it. Just as I, a writer, express my emotions through words, Rakel clearly does it through her art. And to use her own doodling style to show us what she is feeling is ingenious! The scene before she gives birth, where she can’t see people’s faces because they’re all scratched out, the animation elevated the frustration levels and made them so palpable!
Also Read: SXSW ‘Women Is Losers’ Review: This 60s Feminist Story Makes You Want To Scream, Laugh, Cry For Women’s History
Kristine Kujath Thorp is brilliant as Rakel
Nader Khademi plays Mos with such earnestness. He looks like a cross between Arijit Singh and a bunch of other nice dudes. I totally was shipping him and Rakel! I think Arthur Berning’s character started off with an advantage; being named Dick Jesus just instantly makes him hilarious. But I think he did a fab job of the confused man child finally growing up arc. Dick Jesus is so so on point, reminding me of many guys I’ve met who’re scared of any commitments or responsibilities when you meet them young but eventually morph into these amazing men. (High five if he reminded you of Barney Stinson!)
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But the one who’s doodling her cake and eating it too is Kristine Kujath Thorp, who is amazing as Rakel. I love the way her character is written—she reminded me of a friend who is also an artist, with her baggy but comfy clothes and I-don’t-care-what-people-think-about-me-attitude. She’s an easy, cool girl, I can see her appeal, and Thorp plays her with such finesse and ease.
Verdict: Well, it is kickass!
Yngvild Sve Flikke’s Ninjababy is hands down one of my favourite films from SXSW. It captures what women go through during pregnancy so well, because whether it is planned or unplanned, having a baby is a huge responsibility and parents suddenly have a lot of growing up to do in the nine months of prep time they get. But at no point does the film get sexist or melodramatic, which is something our Indian films could learn from. God knows we lavish too much importance on motherhood and put parents, especially mothers on a pedestal, forgetting that there’s a real person under that label who can choose to put themselves first. It’s not a crime, people, especially when women just have the game rigged against them by biology. Add to that the animation and Kristine Kujath Thorp’s performance and this is easily a banger of a film you shouldn’t miss.
For more Hauterfly At SXSW, stay tuned!