There is nothing especially unpleasant about watching Let's Ruin It With Babies, the feature-length debut by writer / director / producer / actor Kestrin Pantera, but it also doesn't feel like a fully realized movie. Pantera's screenplay relies on coincidence and arbitrary character developments in order to tell a story that hardly seems like the one the movie is meant to be about, coming off sort of like a strangely distended short film, where 55 minutes of the movie's already short 79 minutes are padding. Having seen so many offensively bad low-budget movies, I want to stress that the film draws a really strange and unique line across the competency and quality spectrums. There are fundamental problems with the entire movie that are present and relevant from beginning to end, all while everything going on at the surface is likable.
For one thing, Pantera's performance is a bit of fresh air when comedy for women, especially women in lead roles, seems to be going in one kind of direction: neurotic. I don't mean that as a slam or a put-down in any way -- I've really enjoyed many performances that fall under that banner -- it's just to say that the energetic, determinedly positive, assertive kind of character Pantera plays in the movie stands out by virtue of being different. When Chaz tells her he can't go on the trip, she hesitates for less than five minutes before recruiting her party-girl friend Bunny (Eva Kim) to be her second-in-command, giving her the determination to stay the course. Shortly thereafter, she feels a wave of panic at having to learn how to drive the massive RV, but Chaz brings her back down so she can focus on learning. The character has doubts about or relating to herself that aren't self-doubt, a distinction that too few filmmakers or screenwriters ever focus on.
The flip side of that is that the tour itself, which is not just a central plot point but also essentially the setting for the movie, feels like a strangely omnipresent afterthought. The conflict that arises while Channing and her friends are on the bus, a looming interview with NPR that Channing has staked her hopes and dreams on, feels like an incomplete or weakly-realized metaphor for something unfulfilled in Channing's life, even in scenes where that idea is playing out very literally. The parameters for what it is that Channing would consider "successful" are never defined, which in turn makes it hard to get a bead on what it is she's feeling, and making a couple of montages of satisfied partygoers come off as extraneous. The title Let's Ruin It With Babies suggests a relationship dramedy between a husband and wife, and yet this is a movie where the husband essentially disappears, and the other stuff the protagonist is dealing with takes over rather than serving as a backdrop for the larger story. (Side note: also awkward to have a karaoke bus where the characters can only sing royalty-free music.)
Worse, the conflicts that do creep in around the edges during the tour appear and disappear based on the needs of the film, rather than actual character arcs or developments. At one point, Channing mentions in a voicemail that Chaz hasn't called her in several days, but just a few scenes later, she can blame him for something that's gone wrong, and so he magically becomes reachable, without any elaboration on why he wasn't answering before. Interpersonal conflicts on the bus feel as if they exist only within the scenes where they're introduced, rather than being something the story is building to over time. Without a throughline to grab onto, it's easy to lose track of what the film is actually about or what it's trying to say about its characters. Pantera caps things off with an ending so rife with happenstance that it practically feels like a parody of wish fulfillment. At all times, there's something about Pantera's film that is entertaining, charming, or interesting, but none of those elements manage form much of a cohesive picture.
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