Nearly a decade ago, microbudget stalwarts Joshua Leonard (“The Blair Witch Project”) and Jess Weixler (“Teeth”) collaborated on “The Lie,” a witty deconstruction of the demands of parenthood. Leonard directed the entirely improvised adaptation of T.C. Boyle short story, with Weixler and co-star and Mark Webber sharing writing credit. Now, Leonard and Weixler are back with “Fully Realized Humans,” a more mature and madcap take on the concepts that drove their first feature, with similarly smart results.
The pair clearly operate on the same wavelength, which helps keep their winsome pregnancy comedy afloat. As explained via an amusing animated introduction and zippy opening credits, Elliot (Leonard) and Jackie (Weixler) are about to become parents for the first time, and they’re only slightly freaked out about it. They’re doing all the prep work they should: lots of comparing key items, plenty of reading, and even employing a soothing doula (real-life birth expert Erica Chidi Cohen) who doesn’t roll her eyes at their sillier inclinations.
But, no, they’re not actually prepared. Elliot and Jackie might be putting in the work, but outside influences seem oddly intent on leading them astray and making them worry about all kinds of things they’ve yet to consider (ever heard of “crib death”? Elliot and Jackie are about to!). Things come to a hilarious head during the pair’s baby shower, where a pack of friends (including Jennifer Lafleur, Ross Partridge, and Zach Shields) steadily move from basic baby care tips to tear-soaked revelations about the failures of their own parents. The result is understandable: Elliot and Jackie are freaked out.
Intent on shaking off any of their own neuroses (including, of course, the ones driven into them by their own parents; hello, foreshadowing), the pair decide to spend the next month before their baby girl’s birth turning into the eponymous “fully realized humans.” That mean uncomfortable stuff, like “graffiti-ing something,” buying a falcon, or a classic car to drive up the coast. Or, more likely, stuff that’s actually doable for a nervous would-be dad and his heavily pregnant wife (Weixler was indeed pregnant during shooting, adding a layer of authenticity that’s impossible to duplicate with fake bellies).
Leonard and Weixler’s script gently toys with the idea that Elliot and Jackie are already evolved enough, just by virtue of their willingness to go nutso in the pursuit of better humanity (and better parenting). Yet their misadventures — including a sexual outing that is both hilarious and approached with a straight face — stir up other emotions that require attention. Even the bonding their mission engenders in them is ultimately fraught, leading them to briefly consider doing everything on their own (Jackie’s brief idea that Elliot could serve as her doula is emblematic of the pair’s weirder, wackier turns).
Clocking in at a slim 74-minute running time, there’s little room for excess in “Fully Realized Humans,” but Leonard and Weixler’s lived-in chemistry and quirky writing (again, largely improvised) keep their characters feeling real even in the midst of their wilder adventures. Filmed in and around Echo Park and other eastside L.A. environs, there’s nothing fussy about the lo-fi production, and every location looks like the kind of place its creators hang out at during their real lives (this is not at all a bad thing, especially for a film that derives so much charm from the stuff that’s rooted in Leonard and Weixler’s reality).
Ultimately, Jackie and Elliot’s journey leads to their relationships with their own parents, hashed out in a longform sequence that digs deep on the film’s darker emotions. Leonard and Weixler are skilled at being honest, often in bloody, silly, and strange ways, and the film’s chatter-heavy resolution is an unexpected (but necessary) extension of the wackiness they have otherwise embraced. It’s not quite fully realized, but it’s charming enough to make clear that this duo shouldn’t wait another decade to cook up another idea.
“Fully Realized Humans” was set to premiere in the U.S. Narrative Competition section at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.