David Arquette, Connie Britton, Jonathan Silverman, Alan Tudyk, Jennifer Finnegan, Jennifer Jostyn, Sarah Hyland, Matt Prokop and a bunch of others
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
Equiv. to "R"
Rock It Productions
An official selection of the 2011 Indianapolis International Film Festival, Conception has so many scenes that achieve near perfection that it's a true shame that the finished product never quite gels into a truly cohesive film.
The film opens with a seemingly bewildered teacher (David Arquette) quoting Aristotle to his obviously clueless elementary school classroom, a quoting that triggers but one question "Where do babies come from?" Judging from his response, one can never be quite sure he really knows.
Conception is about "the answer," but not so much the answer in the way that we usually answer it. Of course, the children toss around the usual ideas - the stork, the sky, various animal references and, of course, sex. However, the film that follows examines more wholly where babies truly come from - the relationships, the environments, the fights, the passions, the acts and the idiosyncrasies.
In other words, babies from us.
While the concept itself isn't a particularly original one, writer/director Josh Stolberg (Kids in America) has such a remarkable gift for authentic dialogue and a terrific sense of comic timing that all nearly works anyway. If Stolberg hadn't apparently insisted on incorporate nine couples, NINE, into the picture Conception may very well have been one of the year's most delightful surprises. Even as diluted as the storyline is, Conception is unquestionably one of the year's funniest of Indy Film Fest's official selections.
There are four couples who get the bulk of the screen time -
Tracey (Sarah Hyland) and J.T. (Matt Prokop), a young and adorably mismatched couple contemplating losing their virginity with one another on one condition ... Tracey insists that J.T. sacrifice his meat-eating ways. There's a sort of fumbling tenderness to this scene that is painted so innocently that it's likely to bring back memories of your own first time with its mixture of "This is going to last forever" and "There's no way this can possibly last." Ahhhh, memories!
Laurie (Jennifer Finnigan) and Brad (Jonathan Silverman) have been married for awhile now, and sex las lost its romanticism. There's a glimpse of the couple that they used to be, but it gets lost in translation as Brad tries to finish reading a chapter of a Harriet Tubman biography before they "do it." You know, fuck.
Brian (Jason Mantzoukas) and Gloria (Connie Britton) are dealing with fertility treatments, adding a rather comical clinicalness (Is that even a word?) to their relationship that's complicated even more by the fact that Gloria's a nurse. The banter back and forth between Brian and Gloria contains a good portion of the humor found in Conception with the exception of that found in the relationship of Tiffany (Laurie Bowen), a cougarish divorced mom playing with boytoy Will (Gregory Smith).
Then, there's Gwen (Jennifer Jostyn) and Mark (Alan Tudyk). Gwen and Mark are six-weeks after the birth of their baby with Gwen having been on some level intimately traumatized by the experience while Mark simply craves a return to their intimate ways. While many of these moments are played for laughs, there's an underlying intimacy here that plays remarkably well thanks to a near perfect chemistry between Jostyn and Tudyk.
The other couples, including the aforementioned Tiffany and Will, include a lesbian couple approaching artificial insemination (Moon Bloodgood and Pamela Adlon), a couple on a blind date (Steve Howey and Leila Charles Leigh), an incredibly but quirky couple (Tim Griffin and America Olivo) and a couple close to breaking up (Aaron Ashmore and Leah Pipes).
Nine couples. Nine scenarios. Not nearly enough time to get to know them all.
Had Stolberg centered the film around, perhaps 4-5 of the couples rather than insisting on covering so much ground, it's incredibly likely that Conception would have been one of 2011's indie darlings. While it's hard to picture a scenario that would have given the film wide release appeal, the scenes that work in Conception work really well and make it possible to forgive and almost forget the scenes that don't quite make it.
Stolberg attempts to address the busyness of his film by utilizing a variety of split-screens that help to smooth transitions and occasionally allow for the sharing of screen time between couples even though their stories never intertwine. This technique is occasionally used quite nicely, but all too often it feels simply like a "technique" that avoids the bigger problem of too many characters and not enough time.
It's easy to understand why Stolberg had such a hard time with editing the film given his obvious gift for dialogue and his uncommon ability to capture both the nature humor and the intimacy found in everyday relationships. One can picture Stolberg hunched over an editing table trying to rule out characters and realizing that they are all, in fact, quite delightful characters that individually you really want to get to know. As a writer, you get to know your characters intimately and, too often, you assume the audience will do the same. In this case, the assumption is wrong. While Stolberg likely had weeks or even months with these characters, the audience gets 90 minutes and it's not enough time to justify the presence of so many essentially ingredients.
On a side note, 10 minutes per sex act sounds about right. I'm just sayin'.
It's easy to understand Indy Film Fest's admiration for the project, and there's no question that Conception is very much an independent film festival type of project. It's just sad that such a wonderfully written project with several delightful performances is bogged down and never quite lives up to its potential. If Stolberg had, perhaps, deferred directing the film to someone able to make some difficult decisions about editing and characters then Conception might have achieved perfection.
Conception will show one more time at Indy Film Fest on July 22nd at 5:15pm. While it never quite lives up to its potential, this is a terrific example of the "indie fest" type of film with its adult story, adult humor and quirky charm. A great date flick (No sex in the theatre please...IMA hates that!), Conception is yet another great reason to come check out the 2011 Indy Film Fest at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, July 14-24, 2011.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic