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Gus: SXSW Review

The Bottom Line

Laughs outweigh pathos in likable movie about a woman's need to have a baby.

Venue

South by Southwest, Narrative Spotlight

Cast

Michelle Monaghan, Radha Mitchell, Jon Dore, Michael Weston, Mimi Kennedy

Director-screenwriter

Jessie McCormack

Jessie McCormack's debut focuses on a household planning an unusual and emotionally tricky adoption.

AUSTIN -- A film about the desperation to be a mother that doesn't rely on familiar baby-crazy tropes, Jessie McCormack's assured debut Gus is more interested in the precarious dynamics surrounding an unusual adoption scheme than in making observations about ticking biological clocks. Funny and audience-friendly but unsentimental, its commercial appeal is boosted by leads Radha Mitchell and Michelle Monaghan.

Mitchell plays Lizzie, who has gone through rounds of in vitro fertilization without luck; Monaghan is best friend Andie, a colorful (read: often annoying) character who can't keep a lid on her no-boundaries wisecracks even when they're getting her into trouble. Pregnant after a one-night stand but far too immature to raise a child, Andie offers to have the baby and give it to Lizzie.

McCormack's refreshingly elliptical script gets this premise rolling without spelling it all out, though later turns in the plot might have played better if we'd seen a little bit more here of Lizzie's negotiations with husband Peter (Jon Dore), who must be convinced to go along with the plan.

Before long, Lizzie has moved into the couple's house. Then there are four: Peter's brother Casey (Michael Weston), just out of rehab, doesn't want supervision but has it forced on him. Casey's sullen silences mix poorly with Lizzie's attempts at humor -- even if viewers can see they'll bond down the road, the friction between them does nothing for Andie and Peter's comfort level, and this pseudo-nuclear family soon splinters.

Visits to a snarky therapist (Mimi Kennedy) supply comic reminders of just how much of this household's discomfort is self-inflicted, but that doesn't keep McCormack from taking Lizzie's frustration seriously as she begins to feel less and less supported in her dream of motherhood. Mitchell gets the isolation across with a minimum of self-pity, letting us sympathize with her even if we doubt how realistic she's being. The resolution to this dilemma won't score points with romantics in the audience, but it rings truer than anything else in the film.

Production companies: FilmColony, Unique New York
Cast: Michelle Monaghan, Radha Mitchell, Jon Dore, Michael Weston, Mimi Kennedy
Director-screenwriter: Jessie McCormack
Producers: Jessie McCormack, Kathryn Himoff, Kevin Fitzmaurice Comer, Erik Van Wyck
Executive producer: Richard N. Gladstein
Director of photography: Magela Crosignani
Music: Mark Kilian
Costume designers: Jackie Atkins, Justine Seymour
Editor: Kathryn Himoff, Nimrod Erez
Sales: Jessica Lacy, ICM
No rating, 86 minutes