SXSW 2021 – Ninjababy (2021) Film Review

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The second feature film by Norwegian filmmaker Yngvild Sve Flikke, Ninjababy is based on Inga H Sætre’s graphic novel Fallteknik. The film stars Kristine Kujath Thorp as Rakel, a 23-year artist who enjoys her carefree life of smoking, drinking and partying. However, she finds herself unexpectedly pregnant after a drunken one-night stand. Unsure of what to do, she finds herself grappling with the situation and what to do next.

Even though the concept of unexpected pregnancies among young women is not a new one in cinema, there haven’t been many that explore the emotional aspect of unwanted motherhood. However, films like Ninjababy and 2020 drama Rarely Never Sometimes Always bravely incorporate this within their respective narratives with a strong protagonist at its core. But while Rarely Never Sometimes Always offers a solemn narrative to reinforce its lead’s dilemma, Ninjababy lightens its premise with its wit.

Protagonist Rakel has several ambitions – astronaut, forest-keeper, cartoonist – but being a mother is not one of them. Determined to get rid of her baby, her efforts to get an abortion are thwarted by bad timing and she finds herself in a complicated situation. Thorp delivers a delicate and poignant performance as Rakel, who takes it upon herself to try and come to terms with the pregnancy with little to no help. The baby’s father, coined ‘Dick Jesus’ (Berning), is a conceited douche, and roommate Ingrid (Dietrichson) offers little insight, so it is no wonder that Rakel resorts to asking her half-sister Mie (Nymoen) for help. The only person who offers Rakel a sense of comfort is aikido instructor and tabletop gaming fan Mos (Khademi), whose genuine interest in her makes him one of the nicest love interests in recent cinematic history. 

While Flikke and Johan Fasting’s screenplay delivers tenderness and laugh-out-loud moments, Ninjababy aesthetically offers a blend of poignant direction and simplistic yet expressive animation. The latter is driven by the eponymous hand-drawn, bandana-wearing ninjababy. Its witty insights on life and the people around Rakel allow her to convey her inner thoughts. Her banter builds a love/hate rapport with the character, thereby unwittingly creating an emotional connection with her unborn child. 

It is this bond that brings out a sense of responsibility in the normally reckless Rakel. Although she doesn’t want the baby and openly discusses the pressures women face to avoid pregnancy with Ingrid, she wants to see her child be properly taken care of. Stemming from not having a say in the adoption process, her frustration in finding the ‘right’ family results in amusing scenes involving prospective adoptive parents that dissolves into a heated argument involving racism, as well as an awkward confrontation over fried eggs. These scenes are indicative of the film’s eclectic style and tone so it comes as a shock when Rakel’s emotionally tumultuous journey ultimately forces her to come to terms with her future. By this point, Flikke and Thorp truly shine as director and actor, respectively, by conveying the emotional fragility that has been simmering under Rakel’s indifferent exterior. The realism of her situation not only allows Thorp to enhance her performance on an emotive level but enables Flikke to develop Ninjababy‘s more heart-rendering scenes and its surprisingly touching ending.

Overall, Ninjababy is a moving coming-of-age story that highlights a witty screenplay and beautifully creative direction, with Thorp’s charming performance at its heart.

Director: Yngvild Sve Flikke; Johan Fasting (co-screenwriter)
Stars: Kristine Kujath Thorp, Arthur Berning, Nader Khademi, Tora Christine Dietrichson, Silya Nymoen

Runtime: 103 minutes
Country: Norway

Film Rating: ★★★★★

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