Filmmaker Marianna Palka has spent the past decade of her career dipping into various genres and finding the space to tell intimate stories in each, from her debut dramatic romance “Good Dick” to last year’s biting midnight offering “Bitch,” and her latest film only continues that trend. “Egg” shows the Scottish actor-director’s continuing ability to ground her films with strong character work and a buoyant sense of humor.
Written by first-time screenwriter Risa Mickenberg, the movie follows a pair of mismatched pals whose conflicting ideas about motherhood screw up an ordinary dinner party in unexpected ways. Starring Christina Hendricks and Alysia Reiner (who also produced the film) as old friends from art school whose paths diverged, the actresses maintain the uneasy chemistry of two people who used to know each other very well, and aren’t quite sure how to rekindle their bond. Tina (Reiner) has stayed in the art world, and her light-filled industrial loft illuminates that (with warm work from cinematographer Zelmira Gainza), though the cluttered space still isn’t welcoming enough to suburbanite Karen (Hendricks) and her square husband Don (a hilarious David Alan Basche, Reiner’s real-life husband), on hand for a stilted dinner with Tina and her own husband Wayne (Gbenga Akinnagbe).
Divided into three chapters, each named for the characters ostensibly at the fore (the first: “I: Tina”), the movie flips between each member of its ensemble, from outsized Tina to nurturing Wayne, to six-months-pregnant Karen and sarcastic Don. Despite Tina and Karen’s past, it’s the bond between each couple that emerges early, mainly because Tina seems personally offended by Karen’s pregnancy, and Karen is understandably ticked off about it.
Tina and Wayne’s arty lifestyle isn’t conducive to having a baby (Don’s obsession with finding out just what the hell Wayne does for a living shows off the divide between the pair with easy amusement), and Tina’s attitude towards Karen speaks to that at every turn. Despite the heavy nature of the material, Palka and her cast keep the majority of the film’s first two acts light and snappy. Part chamber piece, part farce, the movie makes the foursome and their shifting dynamics into the kind of intimate dramedy that could also work well on the stage.
Mickenberg’s script is hiding some big secrets, though, and it’s Tina who reveals them, earning the right to name the first act and then some (the second: “Tina & Karen”). Tina’s fight-the-patriarchy feminism bangs up against Karen’s my-body-my-choice ideology, and “Egg” tilts back and forth the between the personal and the political as they hash it out, both for themselves and the world at large. Wayne and Don briefly embark on their own unexpected adventure, leaving space for Hendricks and Reiner to briefly turn the film into a true two-hander, all the better for them to revert to their old bond, deep enough to reveal still more secrets, most of which come together to form an unsettling final showdown.
The film’s light tone recedes suddenly in its third act (“Tina & Karen & Kiki,” get ready to meet Kiki), when all its drama suddenly turns dark and often overwrought. The situation at hand might call for a more downbeat approach, but the shift feels unearned, and the final moments suggest Palka’s more than happy to revert back to the fizzy approach of the first act. Still, you’ve got to crack some eggs to make an omelette, and the fussiness of its conclusion carries “Egg” through to a rewarding end, a heartbreaker with hope to spare.
“Egg” premiered at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.