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First Comes Love: Film Review

The Bottom Line

Self-absorbed doc contributes little to conversations about unconventional child-rearing.

Opens

Wednesday, July 24

Director

Nina Davenport

Director Nina Davenport films her own adventure in single-mom parenthood.

When Ross McElwee released Sherman's March nearly three decades ago, there was something novel about a filmmaker setting out to explore his own emotional history onscreen. That's hardly the case today, and the proliferation of narcissists with video cameras should, one thinks, raise the bar: You ought to have to be an unusually interesting person, or at least be capable of presenting your commonplace tribulations in an interesting light, before you can ask moviegoers to spend 15 bucks to watch you onscreen.

Nina Davenport's First Comes Love doesn't buy into this rule. But then, the film's tunnel vision is wholly in sync with that of its subject -- the middle-aged Davenport, who decides to stop looking for a man and just get pregnant on her own. The not-small contingent of American women who've considered or made the same choice represents almost the entire potential audience of this film, which (not unlike those of McElwee) is most watchable for those who see themselves reflected in it.

In her 2001 Always a Bridesmaid, Davenport chronicled her inability to have a relationship that survived long enough to reach the altar. Things haven't changed in the intervening years. At the age of, as she puts it, "forty-one and a half," the filmmaker starts getting serious about taking the Murphy Brown route, polling friends and relatives about the wisdom of conceiving and raising a child alone. One friend observes that she's already worried about making ends meet; others note how hard having an infant is even for a two-parent team. But judging from the tone of her voice-over, Davenport's mind was made up before the advice-seeking began.

When we first see her asking gay buddy Eric if she can have his sperm, he's clearly against the idea. Eventually, he agrees to be the donor so long as nothing father-ish is expected of him. (Eric clearly has his own unrealistic expectations about what the future holds.)

Davenport is successful in getting pregnant, and it's soon clear that "having a baby by myself" means "making those close to me unpaid interns." Best friend Amy, also unhappily single, becomes a surrogate husband to such an extent that couples therapy is eventually required. "I can't believe Amy is setting limits," Davenport laments in voice-over. "I'm traumatized!" (During the pregnancy, Davenport starts a long-distance relationship with a surprisingly understanding man who turns out to be the film critic John Anderson.)

The filmmaker isn't shy about sharing the experience of pregnancy: She films herself in the bathtub, offers footage of the childbirth, and shoots conversations while sitting with pumps attached to both her breasts. Attempting to supply psychological context for what she's doing, she offers family history and home-movie interviews with her parents: Her late mother appears as the very model of upper-middle-class homemaking, while her father, an auto executive, insults her choices openly and can hardly bring himself to engage in conversation. With a dad like this, one begins to understand why Davenport is so cavalier about the downsides of a single-parent household.

Production company: Baby Pictures

Director-screenwriter-producer-director of photography-editor: Nina Davenport

Executive producer: Sheila Nevins

Music: Ilan Isakov

No rating, 105 minutes