3 May 2005 | bob the moo
Could have been a disaster but works well on several levels and the acting is strong from the leads
Two childless couples, the Bridges and the Mayfields, eagerly await the results of their attempts at conceiving using IVF. The white couple celebrate when they discover that they are to have a baby, but the black couple continue their struggle as they fail to become pregnant yet again. As the pregnancy progresses, the medical staff at the clinic realise there has been a mistake and Lu's embryo has been mistakenly planted into the womb of Laura's. With neither couple wanting to give up "their" child, court is the next step as the experts and lawyers are brought in to help decide which couple the baby should stay with.
This film had alarm bells going in my head because it sounded like it could have been a massive failure for two reasons. Firstly, there are only four or so professional actors in the cast; the majority is made up of real life experts essentially playing themselves only the judge was played by a retired judge as a serving one would have potentially created a precedent. Therefore there was potential that they would be awful in their roles. Secondly, and this is the reason for the experts, the whole film is played out in a docudrama fashion where the whole script was improvised on a daily basis again this could have been a bad thing. The idea behind both these elements is that this is played like a real story developing on the opinions of the experts as they would in real life, thus the cast didn't know how the film would end and it would all come down to a legal judgement. For the majority of the film though, everything works well enough. The story is naturally gripping and it is quite fascinating to see where it will go.
The way it is put together does mean some of it doesn't quite flow together the stale courtroom scenes are scattered across the film, breaking up the drama but not really helping the courtroom bits be as interesting as the personal drama. Also, at times the acting is not all that it should be. Mostly the experts are perfectly natural because that is just what they are being it may be that they are quite cold and professional, but then in reality that is how they would be. At least one of them is poor and feels totally staged but mostly they are OK. Surprisingly the flattest acting comes from the two lead females when they are delivering their narration. It is flat and cold, a total contrast with the emotions in their scenes; it may have been that they were told to do this they were reading out court statements but if that was the case then I think that was a mistake they were doing fine without the narration, luckily it stopped before the 30 minute mark.
Okonedo filmed this before her Oscar nomination (an Oscar she should have won were it not for the Hollywood system) and channel 4 rushed it out following the heat that surrounded her name after the ceremony. She is convincing and draws out a strong character avoiding the showboating and just being a real person, numb because the emotion is 24/7, not just in one scene for the show reel. Likewise Sharp is just as good but she has the harder role because (I think) the issue of colour makes it easier for the audience to come down on the side of the black couple. I think if the couples had both been white then the balance would have been better and the legal argument clearer; making it about race makes it too easy for us to look at Joe and say "well, he looks like them so therefore he's there's". Both Kotz and James are strong in their roles but the film gives less time to them, which is a shame because both were interesting because their views differed from the pure emotion of the women.
Overall this is an interesting experiment that worked out well apart from a few niggles. The issue of colour could have been dropped to make for a more complex and interesting case but it still works. In a way though, it is the emotion of the story that works as much as the legal interest, with both combining to produce an engaging story, told in an innovative manner with great work from the majority of the cast, in particular the four leads.