Film & Television

‘Egg’: Expectant Mothers Behaving Badly

To breed or not to breed, that is the question at the center of Marianna Palka’s film Egg. Well, that’s one of the questions; the movie, which runs a brisk 80 minutes or so, asks a lot of questions about the nature of womanhood, about relationships, about ambition, envy, fidelity, friendship, and, yes, impending motherhood.

It’s the kind of movie that is good to see with others so you can compare notes — and possibly changed perspectives — afterwards.

Palka, a Scottish actor, director, writer, and producer, is no stranger to challenging norms. She became a bit of an indie festival darling more than a decade ago. In 2008, she wrote, directed, produced, and starred in Good Dick, a film about a survivor of sexual abuse that premiered at Sundance and earned mixed reviews. The New York Times, however, asserted that it “surmounts its indie-movie quirkiness with exceptional acting and a sincere belief in the salvation of its wounded characters.” Since then, she has acted more than directed (she’s currently featured in the acclaimed Netflix original series GLOW), but she attracted attention again in 2017 with her film Bitch. It’s a strange fairy tale of sorts in which a desperate stay-at-home mom (Palka) attempts but fails to commit suicide and instead becomes a dog in a woman’s body, leaving her cheating and utterly clueless husband to raise the children, run the family, and care for their new and not yet housebroken “pet.”

Egg, which Palka directs but does not appear in, could be seen as the prequel to Bitch. Written by first-time (and immensely talented) screenwriter Risa Mickenberg, it takes place in an artist’s loft in a not-quite-gentrified-yet section of Brooklyn.

Karen (Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks) and Tina (Orange is the New Black’s Alysia Reiner, who also produced Egg), two “best friends” from art school (who, by the way, haven’t seen each other in many years and have never met each other’s husbands) are reuniting for what promises to be a civilized, sophisticated and friendly afternoon — but turns into a battle that is passive-aggressive at best and wholly aggressive more often than not. The two women have chosen very different paths and both are defensive about their choices. Karen has left her artistic ambitions behind, married successful and shallow Don (David Alan Basche, Reiner’s real-life spouse) and moved to the suburbs. She’s also eight months pregnant (“You’re HUGE!” Tina blurts out, much to Karen’s dismay). Tina, who we learn later has some money of her own (“It’s not a trust fund,” she insists), supports her super sensitive but under-employed husband Wayne (Gbenga Akinnagbe) and has pursued her art. In fact, she has an upcoming major exhibition “at the new museum” on, of all things, motherhood.

Soon after Karen and Doug’s arrival, Tina admits that she and Wayne are expecting too. However, they’ve chosen a less traditional route. Tina (impossibly thin in a sexy halter dress which she deliberately wore to look “accomplished, inaccessibly tasteful and sexy”) has decided to forgo pregnancy. Her egg and Wayne’s sperm are being hosted by surrogate Kiki. As Tina puts it, “If government and businesses are going to devalue women’s work and make motherhood economically unfeasible, why not outsource it?”

Tina and Karen, who we begin to suspect were more frenemies than friends back at school, offer up starkly different ideas about pregnancy and motherhood that quickly become thinly veiled attacks. Tina describes her revulsion at the idea of a baby hanging off her breast, while Karen admits that being pregnant has made her feel like a celebrity and that she pities childless women.

The dynamic between Tina and Karen is the main event here. However, their spouses offer interesting counterpoints as well. As turned off by pregnancy as Tina seems to be, Wayne is obsessed by it. He has biological factoids at his fingertips and his relationship with Kiki is a little too close for comfort. Don, meanwhile, is not exactly turned on by Karen’s condition; she suspects he’s finding comfort elsewhere. The two men eventually leave to pick up Kiki, who is embroiled in her own drama, and we see a glimpse of Tina and Karen’s friendlier past. Tina shows Karen her work, which includes photography of babies, video projections, and large sculptures of wombs and other female bits. The two rather gleefully fall back on games they used to play, and Karen enjoys a glass of wine and a bit of guilty pleasure, necessitating some emergency mouthwash when the husbands return with Kiki.

Kiki (Pitch Perfect‘s Anna Camp) is young and hot and blonde and mildly ditzy. She wears cut-off shorts and complains about how fat she feels (suffice it to say, she isn’t showing much yet, except perhaps her flat and thoroughly toned abs). She is involved with a married man whose wife is expecting their sixth child. And, she has distinct ideas about motherhood herself. In short (Camp’s monologue about the five phases of womanhood is a demented but distinct pleasure), she is no longer a pubescent girl sitting on her father’s friends’ laps or a pair of walking breasts, so now it’s time for her to be a mother. No matter how far apart Tina and Karen may be ideologically, they can share raised eyebrows around Kiki.

With Kiki in the mix now, the accusations and admissions accelerate. At last, Don, who is clearly a controlling type, serves up a bit of a devil’s bargain, forcing people to admit why they’re doing what they’re doing and what they’d rather be doing instead. A great deal of damage has been done in a short afternoon, and it’s unlikely that the “best friends” will plan another get-together any time soon. Or, let’s face it, ever.

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