So how did you spend the pandemic? Did you launch a new side-hustle? Explore a new hobby? Bake an awful lot of bread?
Selina Ringel had a baby, and co-wrote and starred in a movie. And did it all at once.
Single Mother by Choice is the appealing, and impressive result. Directed and co-written by Ringel’s husband, Dan Levy Dagerman, it’s a feature about Eva Garcia, a fiercely independent, type-A 34-year-old who wants a baby and is tired of waiting for Mr. Right.
So she’s going to have one right now, by herself – and do it all by herself.
Well, be careful what you wish for. Because, although no one knows it yet, the whole country is about to go into COVID lockdown — and Eva is about to discover that going through nine months of pregnancy is not something you want to do completely on your own.
It’s a simple enough idea, and not entirely unique – think of Nancy Savoca’s underrated The 24-Hour Woman, a 1999 comedy with Rosie Perez as a hard-charging executive and new mother. But Dagerman and Ringel have an exciting concept to add: Real life.
Ringel was truly, newly pregnant when filming began. And as the shoot stretched over nine months, it captured every mood swing, back ache and awful nagging worry on camera, and in real time, fictionalizing her story without faking it.
Think Boyhood, but with morning sickness.
To its credit, though, the movie is more than a gimmick. Ringel, who has been kicking around in short films or small roles for years, is lively, and appealing (and unafraid to show her changing body, in all its shapes and sizes). Honestly emotional, the film explores (but doesn’t exploit) Eva’s ups and downs, and makes her Latinx heritage an integral (but never merely performative) part of the story.
The film’s also fascinating, not only as a document of the couple’s real-life journey, but our own that year. Remember those first few months of the lockdown, when you frantically rushed to buy toilet paper or nervously shrank from any human contact? Remember those months of Black Lives Matter protests, and the anger in the streets?
Single Mother by Choice captures that, too.
Eventually, the film’s trimester-by-trimester structure, and real-time restrictions, begin to hem it in. The story starts to rush forward, as if it were in a hurry to get things over and done (as no doubt Eva – and, in real life, Ringel – were). The ending is a bit abrupt, lacking any real sense of closure, or significant change.
But real life can be like that. And at its best, Single Mother by Choice captures real life.