Don’t Worry Baby, an indie film written and directed by Julian Branciforte, adds lightness to the dark and tumultuous side of love and parenthood. The film takes an overused storyline and makes it its own by adding an unconventional flair. It takes a dark and uncomfortable topic — a father and son who compete over the paternity of a child after unintentionally sleeping with the same woman — and turns it into a narrative that is both composed and non-judgmental. Those who are used to predictable romantic comedies might be surprised to find that the movie plays out in an entirely different way.
The movie starts with Robert Lang (John Magaro), a young artist and photographer who is struggling to make ends meet. He meets with his father, Harry Lang (Christopher McDonald), who tells his son that he has had an affair with a younger woman once again. Harry criticizes him for not being able to support himself and offers him a job as a kindergarten teacher at the school he runs. The young man sheepishly accepts this position, forcing him to run into an old flame, Sara-Beth (Dreama Walker), at work. He later finds out that Sara-Beth is pregnant and is the young woman that his father cheated on his mother with, leaving him angered and conflicted. With the possibility that either man could be the father, the two men begrudgingly agree to take on the responsibilities of taking care of the child until the test results come in, forcing them to spend time with each other. Their constant competition for the fatherhood and affection of the young woman make for a strangely interesting dynamic in the story.
The film’s cinematography is gloomily picturesque in a way that reflects the somber tone of the story without being too dark or intense. The movie takes place in New York, but Branciforte chooses to capture more obscure and unique places like restaurants in Chinatown and old apartment rooms, abandoning the traditional Hollywood version of a film in New York. While it is obvious that it is a low-budget indie film, it makes up for the lack of multiplicity in scenes with authenticity.
Though many movies shame women who sleep with multiple men, all the characters in Don’t Worry Baby are respectful to Sara-Beth, never degrading her for her relationship with the two men. Even Miriam Lang (Talia Balsam), Robert’s wife, does not express any dislike for
Sara-Beth and acts friendly toward her. There’s a scene in which the mother embraces Sara-Beth’s child, who could potentially also be her husband’s, making the viewer feel unsure whether or not to feel pleased or disturbed. The two women then go out to eat Chinese food together where one of them says, “He took me there on our first date,” and the other replies, “Me too!” This scene and many others unquestionably break societal norms, moving away from
slut-shaming and toward a more accepting environment.
Robert’s friend Lenny, played by Tom Lipinski, serves as comic relief, but fails to deliver. Though he could’ve added a refreshing perspective as the only character in the movie uninvolved in the drama of the dysfunctional family, he doesn’t. Instead, he takes up screen time with silly, useless lines about sex and porn that do not add to the film. The audience is left wondering if the movie would have been better had his character not been in it at all.
The pinnacle of the film — the disclosure of the baby’s father — is anticlimactic. Despite all the anxiety, build-up and anticipation, the characters respond in an accepting and tolerant way. The absence of raw emotion, emotion that would have been normal in any situation similar to this, makes the ending awkward. If it were so apparent that both were competing to be the father, then the fact that no one was shocked or angry at the result made it disappointing for viewers.
The movie closes with the dysfunctional family happily smiling and conversing around the dinner table. The song “Seabird” by the Alessi Brothers, a rock band from the late ’70s and early ’80s that resembles Arcade Fire, ends the movie with a folksy, mystical and upbeat feeling.
Don’t Worry Baby is a film that could be viewed as entirely ridiculous or absolutely brilliant depending on one’s outlook. Some might think the movie is trying too hard to be unconventional while others might feel that it’s a beautiful and authentic story, but one thing is clear: Branciforte’s directorial debut results in a dramatic film that is startlingly grounded in execution.
Originally published in Daily Trojan.