When the Bough Breaks and all the images you see in this review are owned by Screen Gems
Directed by Jon Cassar
I really did not want to see this. The trailers didn’t inspire much hope that this would be all that great and the premise sounded… unpleasant, to say the least. Still, Morris Chestnut is a national treasure and it’s always good to see Regina Hall get some work, so maybe the people in front of and even behind the camera can make something out of this dopey premise! We can only hope…
The movie is about John and Laura Taylor (Morris Chestnut and Regina Hall) who have been trying for oh so very long to have a child, but they’ve failed multiple times and are down to their last viable embryo. I’m pretty sure Regina Hall hasn’t gone through menopause though, so I’m not sure WHY it’s their last egg, but maybe she had some sort of medical issue that made her infertile and I just wasn’t paying attention. What all of this ultimately means is that they have one last shot to have a child, and so they have to pick the right surrogate to bring it to term. In walks Anna Walsh (Jazz Sinclair) who’s just volunteered at the fertility clinic that John and Laura are working with, and immediately Laura falls in love with her. Within days, Anna is pregnant with their child and the Taylors couldn’t be happier! That is until Anna’s shit head boyfriend Mike (Theo Rossi) beats the hell out of her and she’s left without much options. Hey, she’s already carrying their kid, so why not let her stay in the guest house? Well… it turns out that Anna may not be all there mentally, and she immediately develops a crush on John which complicates matters. Will Anna have her way with John behind Laura’s back? Just how far from stable is Anna, and what will she be willing to do to get what she wants? Just how the hell did THIS woman manage to bullshit her way through the fertility clinic’s psych evaluation!?
This movie is a total shit show that left me very… mixed. Look, this movie isn’t GOOD or REDEEMABLE or even the slightest bit TASTEFUL, but god damn if I wasn’t laughing all the way through it, and so was the audience! Movies like this and (to a much less extent) The Perfect Man seem to be a conscious return to the sizzling, sexy, Skinemax films that were prominent in the eighties and were relegated to straight to video fare in the nineties. Now a lot of those are tasteless as well (*cough* Fatal Attraction *cough*) and while I appreciate a movie filling a specific niche, this movie feels clumsy in the way it tries to push buttons which makes it a really rough sit in places; particularly the ending. Still, there are good elements in this and I did manage to laugh most of the way through it, so it’s probably not fair to write it off COMPLETELY. Just… what the hell were they thinking?
So I’m sure the elephant in the room (or like seven elephants in the room) is REALLY obvious. For the purposes of this thriller, the movie stigmatizes mental health, sexual abuse, women’s reproductive rights, and poor people; not to mention that its view of surrogacy is about on par with God’s Not Dead 2’s view of the UCLA. In fact, let’s get that one addressed right away. The partial truth that this movie exploits as the dramatic crux of the movie (and in doing so does a disservice to anyone who’s actually done this) is that there are cases out there where surrogacy went very badly, and too this movie’s credit, until very recently* this movie was accurate in regards to Louisiana Law on the subject of surrogacy, in that there were pretty much none in effect until August of this year, and even the one that IS in place that MIGHT have protected the couple in some ways would have voided this arrangement as the law only allows those who have already had children to be surrogates (on top of lots of very anti-LGBT bullshit). So yes, this situation CAN happen because, at least at the time the movie was shot, the law didn’t have any way to enforce this kind of predetermined arrangement. Here’s where reality rears its ugly head though and puts this movie in a much more despicable light. I’ve looked up instances where surrogacy went badly, and the overwhelming majority of them are NOT in any way similar to this situation. Mostly, it’s the intended parents who reject the baby and leave the surrogate high and dry, while less likely (but still more often than the baby being held hostage by the surrogate) is with international cases where the country the surrogate lives in won’t let the Intended Parents adopt the child. ALSO, these cases are usually NOT done through Surrogacy agencies; rather through Facebook, Craigslist, and forums which don’t have strict screenings and physical/mental requirements. You know; those things that you GO TO A SURROGACY AGENT AND PAY TOP DOLLAR FOR and that the agency would REALLY want to check, lest something like THIS MOVIE happens at one of these agencies which will then never be able to get customers again.
That all needs to be ABSOLUTELY clear, because the movie does not let the audience know any of this and just lets these misconceptions and worst case scenarios that don’t actually happen linger there for the less informed members of the audience to absorb and take to heart. A movie can have any opinion it wants to have, but I have the right to call it out on its bullshit, especially when it feels this misinformed. On top of the surrogacy stuff, there’s the usual misogyny about women being deceitful and emotionally unstable when it comes to men, and plenty of mental illness stigma where they use Anna’s history in mental health facilities (as well as her history of sexual abuse) to neatly explain why she’s so darn evil. It’s an absolute mess of shitty ideas, and while I will give it the benefit of the doubt and say it’s not like Gods Not Dead 2 in that it’s awful messages aren’t intentional, using these topics so clumsily to justify the circumstances of this simple thriller is not only lazy but can be actively harmful and can be used as a cudgel against very vulnerable groups of people.
So if the movie is THIS offensively slapdash with the real problems surrounding Surrogacy in the US, why don’t I hate this like I would other propagandistic garbage like War Room and Gods Not Dead 2? Well… if you took this out of the real world and remove the politics (and I’m not saying you SHOULD do that), there’s some really good material here if you’re looking for a sexy thriller; both in terms of legitimate thrills and laugh out loud unintentional hilarity. Our three main players are all REALLY good in their roles, with Morris Chestnut as the hard ass yet sensitive and loving husband, and Regina hall as the smart but somewhat desperate wife who’s going through a lot of pain after their multiple failed attempts to have a baby. In particular though, Jaz Sinclair as Anna stands out with her pitch perfect performance as an unstable and manipulative woman who’s been through a lot already and has one of the most frightening smiles you can imagine. She’s beaming throughout the movie, but it’s always off-putting when she does so, and the only way I can think of describe why is that she looks like the Cheshire Cat; grinning at her own sense of satisfaction for what she has up her sleeve.
The movie is paced well, it looks good enough for a movie like this, and the acting is strong throughout from a very talented cast, so there’s a lot here to enjoy if you take it as a complete fantasy, but the movie is too infatuated with its premise to let you do that. Also, the third act just falls apart as the threats and insinuations do come to a head, and the movie just goes wild. It’s kinda fun to see just how far Anna goes to strike fear into the couple, but it goes into a really silly place by the end; especially in the climax and the way that the situation is ultimately resolved. Not only that, but the movie cuts off right before all the problems with the resolution they chose would be address; probably because they couldn’t think of a way to write themselves out of the corner they drew themselves into. The thing is though, that I really laughed so much in this movie that it kind of dulls the blow of these awful ideas. There are moments in here where the audience was cracking up at the awkward dialogue in some scenes, and the way that certain situations were staged; such as when Morris Chestnut looks confused and dumbstruck when Anna starts talking about him being inside of her. Yeah, there are moments like that which could have made this a great comedy if they wanted to go down that road. I think the movie should have either decided to not take itself so seriously, or to cut back on the outlandish stuff that’s particularly prevalent in the third act. Hell, there are moments in the first two thirds that almost convinced me that they weren’t gonna go down the path that the trailers suggest and that this would end a bit more sensibly. Sadly, that’s not the case, and what we have is a ridiculous movie trying to push all sorts of buttons that only manages to eke out a halfway decent (and unintentionally hilarious) thriller with the subject matter they chose to cover. They bet a lot of the controversy and ultimately lost that bet, but they didn’t ENTIRELY fail in the process.
So is this movie worth seeing? Well it’s not outright propaganda like Gods Not Dead 2, and really those are the only movies I would actively tell people are not even worthy of existing; let alone seeing. There’s certainly an audience for this kind of movie, and they’ll probably either try to ignore the unpleasant subject matter, or won’t even notice how repellent it really is. I can appreciate it for what it does well which is an odd mix of legitimate thrills and unintentional laughs, but it’s all gonna come down to how much you can ignore the premise or at least separate it from the real world long enough to let it play out. Not everyone can do that and even I barely managed to considering I spent most of this review refuting the awful messages in here, but it’s just as valid a stance if you decide it’s not enough to keep you away and you want to give it a chance despite those factors. Don’t see it in theaters though, even if you want to see it. The film shot well enough, but this just a high end TV movie which is where it belongs; right alongside A Deadly Adoption.
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*Louisiana House Bill 1102: https://www.legis.la.gov/legis/BillInfo.aspx?i=230384https://www.legis.la.gov/legis/BillInfo.aspx?i=230384