Ninjababy is a Norwegian comedy-drama about Rakel (Kristine Kujath Thorp), a 23-year old slacker with a latent talent for graphic art but an even bigger talent for simply doing nothing at all. It’s a bit of a wrinkle, then, when she learns she’s six months pregnant without having realized it. “Not all women grow big bellies,” a doctor tells her.
Rakel isn’t ready to be a mother. In fact, she does not want to be a mother. She never has and probably never will. The biological father, Pikkjesus (Arthur Berning), or “Dick Jesus” as Rakel calls him, was a casual fuck-buddy with equally uninspiring prospects. Rakel’s pregnancy is long past the 12-week limit for abortion, and the prospect of giving the child up to Foster care terrifies her. It’s a complex, emotionally draining situation. Thus manifests Ninjababy, Rakel’s cartoonish representation of the child growing inside her, with whom she communicates throughout her dilemma.
Everything in the film rests on Thorp’s shoulders, and her performance as Rakel is worth the price of admission alone. This isn’t a story about a woman with her own life learning the value of giving it up for another person. Rakel is smart, funny, stubborn and sometimes infuriating in very natural ways. She really is not ready to be a mother, but the decision on what to do, and her relationship with the child, is heartbreaking and difficult. Thorp is simply wonderful at conveying the range of emotions big and small of this frustrated, reluctantly pregnant woman. The plot never betrays her character’s strengths or weaknesses. It never forces her into a tidy box.
Thankfully, the men in her life are also dynamic and interesting. Pikkjesus is kind of a thoughtless hipster but grows over the course of the story in surprising ways that are also, quite frankly, a bit too convenient. Mos (Nader Khademi) is Rakel’s current flame, who doesn’t find her pregnancy a reason not to pursue and care for her. There are times where the film almost veers into romantic comedy, and all of the actors make the blend of comedy and drama feel seamless.
Stories about unwanted pregnancies are pretty common fodder for the independent scene, but I’ve never seen one quite like Ninjababy, where the mother character simply does not want to be a mother without the story betraying that trait for preconceived social notions about responsible parents. Rakel’s growth into taking responsibility for herself and her needs means finding a place for her child. Like Rakel, the film is unique and instantly likable, breaking free from conventions with cleverness and wit. Highly recommended.
Ninjababy is available as part of the Heartland Film Festival’s online offerings from Oct. 7 to Oct. 17.
An in-person screening will be held at 5:15 p.m. EDT on Saturday, Oct. 9, at the Kan-Kan Cinema and Brasserie.