Of those I’ve seen, Single Mother By Choice is one of the better pseudo-vérité quarantine dramas to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Eva (Selina Ringel) is a self-driven publicity rep working in Hollywood. She has a complicated relationship with her parents — particularly her father, a man of means who has rarely been there for her emotionally. Everything Eva has done has been something she strove for on her own. So when she decides to become a mother, she knows exactly how she wants to do it — through artificial insemination. She is, as the title states, “a single mother by choice.” Her roommate, Skye (Brittany S. Hall), isn’t surprised in the least.
Unfortunately, Eva becomes pregnant just before COVID hits, and that’s where the script by Ringel and director Dan Levy Dagerman really starts to shine. 2020 was a time most of us want to forget. Being pregnant in 2020? I knew several people who were, and the stress was even greater. It’s a ripe subject for a dramatic story, and Ringle & Dagerman make a lot of smart choices here. They don’t overplay the fear of COVID. There are few instances where Eva has tactile pregnancy scares; most of her pregnancy-related turmoil is related to how she feels and what she fears. By and large, the tension comes from Eva trying to figure out how to manage on her own when the whole world feels unsafe for her and her baby. Although there’s a financial deus ex machina, it doesn’t feel contrived or coincidental and comes at the end of an ongoing subplot. Precious little of Mother feels contrived or coincidental.
There’s just an inherent sweetness to Mother that I appreciated. Ringel is great as the lead. She comes across as an everyday woman just trying to do her best. She has a mostly supportive circle of friends and family who, in better days, would be right beside her as she manages her pregnancy. Most importantly, she never sits and feels sorry for herself or regrets her decision to become a mother. It’s a story about a woman making something work, and the trials and tribulations she faces, in one of the most universally complicated years in modern memory.
One of the difficulties with COVID dramas these days is how visually interesting a director and crew can make their film. After all, most of the films shot during COVID, or set during COVID, tend to lack natural variety in settings and budget. Dagerman keeps it all interesting and, like many others, uses a number of tricks to depict the virtual communication methods we all adopted to stay close to our loved ones. FaceTime, distanced conversations in large outdoor settings, Zoom chats (my brain perked up at the “incoming call” noise at one point in the movie) — it conveys the pandemic experience without ever feeling self-indulgent.
That’s really the key to Mother. It’s a simple, sweet and straightforward story about one woman’s experience during 2020. Her pregnancy is a complication, yes, but it’s not treated as such. Her goal is to deliver a healthy baby. She very much wants to do that. How will she manage it? You know she will. There’s not a cruel bone in this film’s body, for which I was thankful. That’s something I took out of 2020: Sometimes it’s a good thing for art to tell funny, simple stories about people just doing their best to get through it all.