If I learned one thing after 15 years of dedicated film fandom, it's that great films are made everywhere. Finding these films though can be a lot trickier. You've got to keep your eyes and ears open at all times, because you never know when something interesting might pop up. I know it's a terrible cliché, it just happens to be true. Never did I expect that this Polish film would become a personal favorite, but here we are. Baby Bump is a weird, eccentric and oddball film that won't appeal to everyone, but at the very least deserves a fair shot.
Coming of age dramas are not that uncommon, but the thought of sitting through a Polish one didn't immediately appeal to me. For reasons beyond my understanding, it's a topic that rarely inspires creative film making, usually meandering into more character-driven and easy digestible drama territory. That and the fact that Polish cinema isn't really known to be the pinnacle of modern film making made me a little wary of this film. But clearly I was mistaken. Baby Bump is anything but a typical and predictable affair, one look at the trailer should be enough to erase any existing bias.
Director Kuba Czekaj isn't so much interested in a realistic portrayal of his main character, instead he tries to evoke the confusion and mystery that surrounds that time when boys become men (physically that is). Raging hormones, a changing body, lots of school drama to wade through and parents acting in most embarrassing ways, Mickey is facing all of these while his divorced mom is trying her best to make ends meet. Mickey can't keep his emotions in check and while his mom keeps doting on him, he is tepidly trying to find his own way in life.
When Mickey's school announces a random drug test, panic ensues. To earn the respect of his fellow schoolmates, Mickey decides to sell his own urine to those trying to game the test. Lacking a father figure at home, Mickey isn't the most masculine of kids and his protruding ears make him an easy target for others to pick on, so by doing this he hopes to redeem himself with his bullies. His scam inevitable goes south and with everything else going on, Mickey gets stuck in an increasingly disorienting downward spiral.
Czekaj has a strong hip-hop aesthetic going on, which translates into snappy editing, outspoken costume designs and elaborate cinematography. Baby Bump is a very visual film, something I'm naturally drawn to. It's not quite as outrageous as it could've been (at times reminding me of a slightly toned down version of Pieles) but it's sure to leave a strong impression even if you don't like this particular style. The minutely centred character portraits are the thing that stuck with me the most, but with strong color choices, animated sequences and detailed camera work all vying for the audience's attention, there's no lack of visual adventure.
The score too is a real asset. It's very leading and present and it grabs every chance it gets to push the overall atmosphere. It's a blend of rock, hip-hop and more typical film score material, though ultimately it's the way that it is used that sets it apart. It doesn't hide behind the visuals, instead it creates an audiovisual feedback loop that makes the whole aesthetic of the film that much stronger. It's probably not a score that I would listen to outside the context of the film, but that's just more proof of how well it is used here.
Both Kacper Olszewski (the boy) and Agnieszka Podsiadlik (the mom) do tremendous jobs bringing their characters to life. They didn't have an easy task, considering how cartoonesque and alienating the film can be, even so there's a real connection between the two that forms the emotional core of Baby Bump. The rest of the cast is good too, though their characters are quite one-dimensional and mostly there to brighten up the film or present obstacles to overcome for the central duo.
Even though Baby Bump is mostly an emotional rollercoaster, something you have to sit through and experience rather than break down and analyze, the specific setup of a pampered kid struggling with his transition from boy to man in a single-mom household seems to suggest that the lack of a father figure isn't the healthiest way for a boy to grow up. It's merely an interpretation of course and not even one I'd be willing to defend at length, but people who are sensitive to this sort of thing should be warned that it doesn't take much of an imagination to get triggered by the film.
Baby Bump is a fun, creative and modern coming of age drama, fueled by a strong drive to do things differently. Czekaj's direction is an essential part of the film's success, at the same time it's also very divisive and not everyone is going to appreciate the choices he makes. Still, it's these kind of love/hate films that make cinema interesting. None of that safe, middle-of-the-road nonsense that tries to be as inoffensive as possible, but edgy film making that dares to be bold and unique. It's hard to predict people's response to this one, but it's definitely worth finding out for yourself.