SXSW 2021: 'Ninjababy' is Fresh, Innovative, Progressive Filmmaking
by Alex Billington
March 17, 2021
I'm just going to say this right up front: Ninjababy is one of the most creative, innovative films I've seen this year. This film rocks! For whatever foolish reasons, I was resistant to watching this one when it first premiered at the 2021 Berlin Film Festival. Then I finally caught up with it at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival, after many of my colleagues had been raving about it. I wasn't ready to be this blown away by how brilliant and innovative and progressive and hilarious it is. This is the kind of fresh, insightful filmmaking that the world needs more of. This is the kind of empathetic, thoughtful, and delightfully witty storytelling that will shape the next era of cinema. It's not what you're expecting, and yet it's so much fun, and so smart in every way as it goes on and confronts real issues of what it's like to be a woman. This is modern cinema at its best.
Directed by Norwegian filmmaker Yngvild Sve Flikke, and written by Johan Fasting, Yngvild Sve Flikke, and Inga Sætre, Ninjababy quickly introduces us to the free-living and free-loving young Norwegian woman Rakel, played by Kristine Kujath Thorp. She sleeps with whoever she wants, she lives the way she wants, she has no worries. That is until one day she discovers she's pregnant. But who is the father? At first she thinks it's this one guy she randomly slept with recently. But maybe it's another guy? Whatever the case, her life begins to change, and even if she doesn't want to deal with all of this, she has to, so she brings her friend and her lovers along. It's a reinvention of a surprise pregnancy comedy, with numerous beautiful and clever aspects, including hand-drawn animated flourishes that appear on screen inspired by her desire to become a comic book artist. The film perfectly shows how crazy & wild life often is, with all its unexpected surprises.
Among its many fun laugh-your-ass-off scenes, the quintessential "they say the title of the film in the film!" moment might just be one of the best and funniest "they say the title of the film in the film!" moments in any film I've ever seen. I couldn't stop laughing and this particular scene is hilarious and tender and honest in such an intelligent way. The whole film is the kind of film that could only be made by a woman, not only an understanding of what it's like to live as a woman, but how deftly and prudently it handles the humor and the honesty. At first I thought the film was a gender flip, because the man is usually the one who has slept around and must deal with a surprise pregnancy. But the truth is the film is just so damn progressive and so understanding of the female experience, it's really telling an authentic story about a young woman and her experiences. She can sleep around, too, of course. But she still must deal with what happens with pregnancy.
The titular "Ninjababy" is an important part of the film, and as odd as it is at first that a hand-drawn comic book baby fetus is talking to her for half of the film, his presence is vital to her figuring out her life. While some may not be able to get over this aspect of the film, I think it's a remarkably bold and innovative choice to include this and animate him like this. Much of the film is about Rakel confronting the realities of life, the realities of being a woman, rather than sweeping the truth under the rug and telling a feel-good story. We're treated to a story that can challenge our own thinking, while allowing us to compassionately understand the life of a young woman who may not be like anyone we know. By making us laugh, and trust in her no matter what, we can grow, too. I'm not fond of the ending, but I'm so happy with everything else it doesn't matter.