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by Alison Willmore
July 29, 2013 12:47 AM
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Nina Davenport Chronicles Her Decision to Have a Baby on Her Own in HBO's 'First Comes Love'

'First Comes Love' HBO

When Nina Davenport, the "Operation Filmmaker" director whose new personal doc, "First Comes Love," premieres on HBO tonight at 9pm, gives birth to her son Jasper at age 41, she does so surrounded by an amusingly large group of friends, including the father of the baby. "I didn't expect the hospital to let so many people into the delivery room," she observes dryly in voiceover. What she isn't accompanied by is a husband.

Davenport, finding herself single going into her 40s, decided that if she wanted to have a biological child, she wasn't going to be able to do it in the traditional fashion referenced in the title -- by meeting Mr. Right, marrying him and then getting pregnant. Instead, Davenport enlists a somewhat reluctant gay pal to donate his sperm and the support of various others in her life, including her best friend Amy, to accompany her on her journey toward being a single mother, one she chronicles on camera.

Davenport's film is a warm, open-hearted journey that does a better job with exploring its author's experiences than those of the growing groups of single mothers of which she's a part. "First Comes Love" makes some cursory nods in that direction -- Davenport stops by the apartment of an acquaintance who's readying to learn the results of what she's decided will be her final attempt at getting pregnant, and she talks to another who had two kids on her own, ones she frazzledly attempts to manage while doing the interview.

There is a continual sense that there's a whole other doc that could be made about the larger phenomenon of single women, particularly in New York, who due to dating difficulties, commitment-phobia, a focus on career or a whole host of other reasons find themselves approaching the end of their childbearing years without a standard structure in place to have a child. A visit to the doctor with a single, pregnant friend suggests how increasingly common her situation is becoming, but raises many questions -- including ones about economics and work -- the film doesn't attempt to explore.

Instead, for the most part, Davenport keeps the camera on her own path, and it's plenty to fuel a film, as she looks at her wealthier siblings and their nuclear families, at footage of her mother, who passed away, and her old school father, who isn't shy about expressing his feelings that Davenport is making a mistake in going into parenthood alone, and who often is shown in shots with a newspaper up in front of his face. (At one point, he advises her to get an abortion, though when his grandson does arrives, he's charmed.) The Midwestern childhood home she travels back to, the siblings with their beautiful houses and law careers, stand in contrast to the more bohemian life she has in New York, the one-bedroom apartment with the crumbling ceiling and the host of supportive friends.

"First Comes Love" ends up making a powerful case for families of choice -- not as opposed to traditional ones necessarily, but certain in addition to. When Davenport comes home from the hospital with Jasper, Amy, Eric (the biological father) and another friend end up crashing at her apartment to help her through the first few days.

Film critic John Anderson, whom Davenport starts dating after she gets pregnant, also becomes a passing father figure for Jasper, though he and the filmmaker end up having a discussion about the side effects of all these people coming through her child's life and about who he's supposed to count on sticking around as he gets older when the ties are more tenuous and roles less clearly definied. Both Amy and Eric, interestingly, attempt to set boundaries with Davenport early in the film, stressing that they can't be expected to always be there for her and Jasper, though they get pulled into the experience more, it seems, than they ever planned.

That messiness is actually kind of wonderful -- the sense that even as Davenport plunges into this experience without the structures in place that her father insists she needs, new supports arise to help her along. The imperfection of it, the unsteadiness is what gives the film a sense of tremulous vulnerability -- she is no more certain of how this will work than anyone else in her life, and lets us see how terrified and thrilled by the giant shift in her life she is. It's not your typical romance, but it is a film about a different sort of falling in love, and it's a trip worth taking with the filmmaker.

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6 Comments

  • LT | January 16, 2014 3:03 AMReply

    Saw the documentary on TVO....and it touched my heart. Being in the same boat as Nina, the exact same age, tried on line dating, had a few unsuccessful partners but never been married. I too contemplated the possibility of having a child on my own. I'm in the process of finding out if fertile to have a child. So the timing was perfect. I give Nina a lot of credit for following her desire, especially without any financial support. Friends and family member can only help so much as they have their own dreams and desires. At the end of the day, Nina's left with Jasper and his constant need for her guidance. Surprisingly, it never cross Nina's mind that when Jasper is old enough to have his own thinking, he may question why he doesn't have a permanent father. That's been my obstacle for not having a child on my own. I'm curious to know how Nina plan to provide for Jasper with income coming from her documentary work and no other means. Hopefully she has a good financial adviser. Her sister-in-law has a point, if you can't take care of yourself, how do you take care of a child. Let's not even talk about private school or hockey. Nina needs to provide him with food, clothing and shelter. One really need to think it through and not just about their own desire. We may end up bringing someone up to become another homeless person on the street of New York.

  • B | August 14, 2013 9:30 AMReply

    I saw this movie recently..... and it really taught me that Love does come first. Davenport Needed that and put that love on the child to reciprocate it back to her. All this because she couldn't find her own companion. People like Eric who helped her by donating the sperm eventually leave her life because the emotional attachment is real, secure and harder to break later... so they quietly leave her. She was a lesbian for a long time prior to this.... but overriding the "partner" in certain situations does not help for comrade building and even when the gay guys fill in for Daddy they complain about not having any input on the child life because she is Mommy and calls all the shots, even if that person is her partner or the actual sperm donor. She only admits later that maybe she can be a bit controlling as well as a perfectionist on what she wants in another, even when online dating, she lies to both herself and others, male and female. That is OK but do not complain when you find someone who has not been as forthcoming, it goes both ways. This movie taught me that a MAN and a WOMEN will always be the route to go in a prosperous union that has children because same sex couple do not work because 1 has actually given birth and always hold it over the other as was shown either by being it obvious or not so much. At least if there was a man, They would be the Barrier on Fighting, getting girls... well being a man and you cannot learn that from a woman whole hardheartedly as I should know being raised by a woman. Overall good movie but not the intended understanding that I believe the Director Davenport wanted.

  • g | August 13, 2013 9:48 PMReply

    It was real. Nina is what she aspired to be. I hope to see more of her work in the future. She has captured something that is rarely seen realism in its most natural and raw form. I see the difficulty the biological father (John) is dealing with along with the judgements now from everyone. First its John and everyone saying that was so great of you and then its your his father you have a responsibility lets play the guilt card. I see the judgement captured by Ninas father who is who he is. It is the way he was taught and grew to be as a father. Ninas brothers have always been looked at from her father as the proud carry ons of his legacy. Ninas father and brothers will soon learn that Nina has a mind, a voice and something to say and show others more so than they realize. The honesty that Nina searches for her father to be truly proud of her and her accomplishments without judgement will soon come in time. Ninas best friend really has shown her true colors being there for her like a true sister and a true friend. Nina has become something of what Ninas mother aspired to be but was never given the chance. But she is so very proud of her daughter and her decisions and so proud of her independence and her straight forward cander. Yes Nina you do not need his respect or admiration nor his financial help from your father, John or your brothers all of this must come from within. Its not about the haves and have nots because as humans we all aspire to have more but its the simple things and happiness that we find, discover and desire to have. I often wonder if Gertrude would ever forgive her husband for his insulting control issues that she must have spent a lifetime living with it must have grown to be miserable after a time. But she seemed to always find solice in at least one of her children escaping the pitfalls and staying true to the arts and true to her legacy.

  • chris | August 13, 2013 6:47 PMReply

    Loved it...every minute of it! That weird feeling you get just weeks prior to your due date that your whole world is about to change. Then total amazement that that baby is actually yours to take home and love. What a terrific documentary...your Mom would be so proud!

  • sgt x | August 11, 2013 4:00 PMReply

    This is exactly what is wrong with society. From her movie always a bridesmaid, we see that Ms. Davenport has managed to spend the last 12 years accomplishing nothing in her life and now has decided to bring an innocent child into the picture. If you can't take care of yourself then you will not make a good parent! I would suggest you quit putting out your mundane films and grow up as you now have someone who is dependant on you!

  • Charlene25 | August 11, 2013 7:19 PM

    The word is dependent. And who are you to judge. It's a documentary, not a Hollywood film. So while there wasn't exactly a typical Hollywood happy ending, she has hers in her beautiful son. And the support of many in her life. I enjoyed the film quite frankly.