' ' Cinema Romantico: Examining The "I'm Pregnant" Reveal

Monday, May 13, 2013

Examining The "I'm Pregnant" Reveal

It happened again recently. I was watching “Save the Date” (I have a full review that perhaps I'll post one day) when a nice little film that could suddenly decided it couldn’t and decided it needed to help resolve its story by resorting to one of the more insipid and frustrating story reversals of our time. You know the one I’m talking about. It’s where a female character utters the magic words… “I’m pregnant.” Bam! Movie re-prioritized! Free of charge!

It’s a cheat! An easy out! A pulling of the statue on the mantle and opening up a secret wall! Maybe this is a bad analogy but do you recall the moment in “127 Hours” when James Franco as real-life hiker Aron Ralston is trapped in the canyon wedge and he drifts off and dreams of an epic storm that magically lifts him up and out of the wedge and sends him running to his wondrous freedom only to then come to and realize, nope, that ain’t real and he’s still stuck and to get out he’s going to have to……well, you know?

It’s like “Save the Date” – and this is the identical fate of so many other films – yearns to avoid the heavy lifting and hard work of getting its characters out of their own proverbial wedges and where they need to go and so it simply has a character say “I’m pregnant” and she isn't stuck anymore.

Ah, but as with any trope, however antiquated or normally ill-fitting, there are exceptions and examples of proper usage.

Do you know what movie gets “I’m pregnant” just right? “Juno” gets “I’m pregnant” just right. It gets it right because it’s not a Reveal – not to the audience anyway. We know her eggo is preggo straight away and, thus, when it comes time for her to spill the beans to her dad and stepmom there is actual suspense derived – how will they react? – as opposed to phony surprise. And when she says “I’m pregnant” (a deft line reading by Ellen Page that concedes the disappointment she has in herself) those subsequent actions offer a wealth of insight. Juno's folks are shocked and disappointed, but also supportive and understanding. They scold while immediately also focusing on the fundamentals ("first things first, we need to get you healthy"). The scene has laughs and truth in equal measure and cleverly underlines in a matter of moments all the realities of teenage pregnancy.

Do you know what movie gets “I’m pregnant” just right? “Fantastic Mr. Fox” gets “I’m pregnant” just right. That film is Wes Anderson’s masterful piece of animated whimsy, based on Roald Dahl’s book and written by Anderson and the impeccable Noah Baumbach. The opening sequence demonstrates the film’s wit – Mr. & Mrs. Fox (voiced, respectively, by George Clooney & Meryl Streep) are out for a stroll and a bit of thievery, bantering like a canidae Nick & Nora, and find themselves ensnared in a fox trap. At this point Mrs. Fox advises: “I’m pregnant.”

Well, Anderson and Baumbach are fully aware of the trope, of course, and what they do with it here is ingenious and it is both ingenious in the way it works on its own and in the way it signals the tone of the forthcoming film – that is, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” amazingly exists in a perpetual state of total sincerity and irreverence. It's funny that the movie is poking fun at the ancient reveal and, at the same time it's genuinely moving. Only in this moment of need could Mrs. Fox be stoked to confess and the confession underlines how magical it is even in such a moment of need.

But do you know what movie really gets “I’m pregnant” just right? “Rachel Getting Married” really gets “I’m pregnant” just right. This is a film centered around a weekend and a wedding held on that weekend and the sprawling, mildly wrecked family at the center of that wedding. And the two most crucial characters are the Sisters Buchman – Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt), who, as the title indicates, is the one doing the marrying, and younger Kym (Anne Hathaway), the erratic addict out of rehab just for the occasion.

The scene: the family has just returned home from a pre-wedding soiree where Kym (in a bravura piece of acting by Ms. Hathaway) has given an awkward toast. Rachel calls her out, caustically commenting: “Nice apology.” And so Kym says she was trying to make amends – “It’s one of the steps” – and Rachel indicates that she is fully aware of the steps and that Kym has never even tried to apologize and, yet, at her wedding dinner decides to take a painful stab at it. Barbs are traded. Their Dad (Bill Irwin) gets dragged into it. He thinks Kym is making an effort. Rachel thinks Kym thinks she is the sun around which all else revolves. Kym compares the atmosphere in the room to the Salem Witch Trials. Back and forth they go, exchanging big words and pschyological terminology in place of just calling each other the b-word over and over.

“You’re suffering is not the most important thing in the world to everybody!” Rachel declares. “Other people have lives! We have lives! I have a life! I’m in school. I’m getting married. I’m……” And Kym gets this abject look of horror, as if the film has momentarily come face to face with The Amityville Horror. And Rachel says the magic words. “I’m pregnant.”

It’s a Reveal, yes, in the technical sense, because we didn’t know she was pregnant and her family didn’t know she was pregnant – except that it’s not really a Reveal at all because it has no bearing on the overall story. Kym gets it. She says: “You can’t just drop that tectonic bit of information into a completely separate conversation, Rachel. You just can’t do that.” And DeWitt’s expression at this is stone-cold brilliance, glowing with I’m-Gonna-Be-A-Mom warmth and dripping with To-The-Victor-Go-The-Spoils smugness. She replies: “You’re going to be a niece, Kym.” In other words, she just won the argument.

It’s the only “I’m pregnant” confession in cinematic history that doubles as a mic drop.


Alex Withrow said...

Rachel Getting Married! Yes! You're so right, that movie really gets I'm Pregnant right. Rosemarie DeWitt nails that moment perfectly, and the family's reaction is spot on.

Great post.

Nick Prigge said...

Thanks, man! Appreciate it. I have always wanted to write about that scene in Rachel Getting Married - which I think, frankly, is brilliantly written top to bottom - and I guess Save the Date finally pushed me over the edge.