Doula 2022 Movie Review
You’ll be forgiven for not being inclined to laugh about anything pregnancy-related right now. Kudos to “Doula” for trying, though, as director Cheryl Nichols’ hilarious pregnancy comedy arrives at a time when the “laughter is the best medicine” theory is being tested like never before across the country. Calling her brand of comedy “status” might be an understatement — for one thing, central plot development hinges on knowing the difference between midwife and state — but the film’s insights ultimately outweigh its laughs.
That doesn’t seem to be the case early on, as the funniest scene is also the first. Eyes closed during an imagining exercise, midwife Depp (Troian Bellisario) reluctantly tells Pinka (Cheryl Baker) that she’s not working. You can’t see a baby, just an orange dot. There’s only one problem: Pinka died sometime during the last few minutes. This leads not only to a woo-woo funeral with flower crowns that seem almost destined for the “Midsommar” area, but also to a mystery: Deb and her boyfriend Silvio (Arron Shiver, who also wrote the script) need a new midwife. What they get instead is Sascha (Will Greenberg), a doula who happens to be Penka’s son.
If you’ve seen literally any movie about a couple welcoming a stranger into their lives in this intimate way, you’ll probably hear the alarm bells the moment Sasha is staying in the same backyard tent his mother lived in before she passed away. (She insisted not to stay in the same house, as he does.) It is impossible for a variable like this not to change its dynamic, which is already more risky than it seems. Simple Deb does not mind giving birth in the hospital, while Silvio pushes her to do it at home. He’s the one who decides to hire Sasha and he’s the one who regrets it when doula affects Deb in ways he didn’t expect. (“Did you know that whole cheese is pasteurized? A myth.”)
We don’t often think of pregnancy movies as a literary genre, yet this life hurdle has inspired many films. This gamut from comedy (“Knocked Up,” “Obvious Baby”) to horror (“Rosemary’s Baby,” “Mother!”), with some of the most disturbing and memorable entries focused on abortion access and the lack of it: 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days, “rarely sometimes always” and “happens”, to name a few. The last of these, which won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival last year, have strange timing in common with Doula. Audrey Dewan Film Coming to US theaters Shortly after a draft Supreme Court ruling was leaked last week, Nichols’ film was released less than a week after the same decision.
So if you’re wondering if “Doula” is funny or cute enough to take your mind off all of it, the answer might be emphatic. The movie is at its best when focusing on Depp, an independent spirit who can’t help but be surrounded by men who insist they know what’s best for her. Best known for her adorable role in “Pretty Little Liars,” Belisario has intelligence and charm. Manipulation comes in many forms, often more maliciously at the hands of those who present themselves as allies and advocates. “Doula” fits well with this sad reality, and focusing on it more tightly rather than the comedic elements (most of which don’t go down as intended) may have helped shape it into something more meaningful.
The only man involved in Depp’s pregnancy who seems trustworthy is her actual doctor (Chris Pine, who also produced; “Doula” is the first release from his new production company, Barry Linen Motion Pictures). He is justifiably wary of both Silvio and Sascha. Not for nothing, Pine consistently ranks high in the fan ratings of Hollywood Cresses (see also: Hemsworth, Evans and Pratt) – it’s rare for a star of his level to be involved in such a small and intimate venture, there’s no doubt. That “Doula” was a labor of love.
However, rarely is the movie so funny that it makes it cringe. It seems strange to say that a 105-minute movie is too long, yet so little of the results actually happen in that hour and 45 minutes that you can’t wish you could have removed some of the fat in the editing room. “Doula” eventually comes off as less of a true comedy and more of a fun, but low stakes slice of life as well. Besides thinking that Depp would do well to extricate herself from just about every relationship, she simply doesn’t inspire much in the way of strong feelings.