Movies about women dealing with legitimate issues of fertility, fear of being alone and general emotional/social unease and aimlessness in their mid-30s have a difficult time gaining traction in this landscape of massive mega-budget, male-oriented, franchises, especially ones made by women. Even ones that make the material more audience-friendly by blending the subject matter with humor. You’d think there’d be an audience for stories targeting women, about the types of things they could be experiencing in their own lives. The major studios certainly don’t think so. Luckily, indie film gives female filmmakers more opportunities to make something personal. Scrambled, written by/directed by/starring Leah McKendrick, is a bittersweet, honest, enjoyable comedy.
As star, she brings charm, vulnerability, likability and some strong comic timing. As director, her pacing is a little inconsistent, but she understands how to let dramatic moments breathe, staying on an actor during a big speech and not relying too much on reaction shots for impact. As a writer, though, is where she stumbles. McKendrick does a good job peppering in jokes without them feeling out of place, even in uncomfortable situations. Scrambled (95 minutes, without the end credits) is at its best when protagonist Nellie has awkward, funny, and occasionally insightful conversations with the people in her life. It is less effective digging into her inner turmoil.
Nellie is 34-years-old, single and without prospects. With so much pressure on her (from society in general and also from her father) to get married and have a kid, and with time ticking on her body, she decides to freeze her eggs. This sets off a journey of self-discovery where Nellie learns about herself and how she fits into the world.
Despite being amusing and consistently interesting, Scrambled has a hard time sticking its bigger dramatic beats. Because of this, the final act isn’t quite as rewarding as it should have been. Nellie’s relationship with her family definitely helps produce her concerns that she is responsible for the failures of all of her past relationships and that she is wrong for not being sure she ever wants kids. Those are the concepts that drive a lot of her decisions. However, the family stuff ends up feeling like exposition more than a necessary plot point and the movie struggles a bit in its dramatic speeches. Those don’t really pay-off as impactfully as was likely intended.
McKendrick (who based her screenplay on her own experiences freezing her eggs at the age of 34) doesn’t trivialize what Nellie is going through or judge her. There is a stretch in the middle of the movie where Nellie reconnects with several ex-boyfriends to see if maybe someone she dismissed was actually right for her after all. One of Scrambled’s main messages is a criticism of the idea that, since men can get a woman pregnant whenever, but women only have a certain period of time to get pregnant before, at best, it gets extremely difficult to conceive, women need to take what they can get from the dating pool. This sequence is probably too on-the-nose about why it’s silly to put this kind of pressure on women, yet it shows McKendrick’s ability to use humor to make her larger points.
This is hopefully just the start of a successful directorial career for Leah McKendrick. Her debut feature is rough around the edges, while still being smart, funny and only kind of safe. It is a mainstream comedy that uses its style to sneak in some relatively solid gender-based commentary. It is a very promising debut, that absolutely marks Leah McKendrick as someone to watch out for in the future.
3½ out of 5
Leah McKendrick as Nellie
Clancy Brown as Richard
Andrew Santino as Jesse
Ego Nwodim as Sheila
Laura Cerón as Mom
Written/Directed by Leah McKendrick