Serialized vignettes explore couples on the verge of making babies
The pitch for “Conception,” a slightly skewed romantic comedy from writer-director Josh Stolberg (screenwriter on “Good Luck Chuck” & “Sorority Row”), probably reminded some of the gatekeepers that heard it of would-be mainstream crowd-pleasers like “Valentine’s Day” and “New Year’s Eve,” the broad ensemble pieces anchored by familiar names and faces reduced to sappy sit-com style love revues. Diminishing returns on the sentimental holiday-themed love fests have likely saved audiences from “Memorial Day” and a July 4th fireworks display complete with exploding hearts and Cupid’s arrows streaking across the skies, but Stolberg snuck in his take on Labor Day.
To be fair though, “Conception” definitely skews indie rather than driving home straight down main. Nine couples – I would like to say diverse couples, but true racial and ethnic diversity is sorely lacking – stand on the precipice, baring themselves, so to speak, and we see that in most cases, the moment of conception usually isn’t focused on conception at all.
Gloria (Connie Britton) & Brian (Jason Mantzoukas) and Nikki (Moon Bloodgood) & Tay (Pamela Adlon) are the only couples solely intent on procreation and their stories offer glimpses into the modern crises of couples struggling to conceive. For Gloria and Brian, there are the fertility issues involving women who have waited. “Conception” is all about maximizing opportunities and optimal positions to join the one intrepid sperm and the egg. In other words, this is less natural and more an examination of the body as a scientific experiment.
The science of conception lies between Nikki and Tay as well, but as lesbians longing to be parents, it is just the means to an end, so the moment sneaks back into the realm of emotion. Which of them will carry the child? How did they reach the point where they wanted to embark on the journey together? Love and longing and real desire are manifest between them and it is plain to see that they are entering this next phase with their eyes on their future as parents and a couple.
The other seven couples caught in the act are driven by needs and desires for sex and release, pure and simple. It could be argued that this really is how most babies are conceived, whether by couples that have been together for some time (and may even be linked by marriage and established families), new couplings or heated one-night stands. And Stolberg presents each of these situations with little fanfare and even less judgment. There appear to be no obvious links between the couples; there are no extended family dramas or connect-the-dot moments when one partner crosses paths with someone else in a coffee shop or the grocery store and there was the possibility for a different love connection.
“Conception” captures these baby-making roundelays in isolation, creating stark contrasts. Humor drives most of the encounters – the neurotic versus the erotic, as the tagline for the movie states – but there is genuine emotion throughout each. The couples struggle to bond, to fulfill their own desires, while also thinking of their partners and their satisfaction. I realize that I’ve made the movie sound more dramatic than it actually is, but it is refreshing, in some ways, because Stolberg didn’t shy away from the dramatic elements. By reducing things down to the core relationships and focusing on the intimacy between two people in a pivotal moment, you can’t help but spotlight the human drama, although certainly there’s room for poking fun at the ways in which life begins.
Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com