Berlinale 2021: ‘Ninjababy’ Review

Editor-in-Chief Pihla Pekkarinen appreciates quirky cinema in this review of a Norwegian comedy

Everybody has their genre. Whether it’s WWI movies (I will never understand you), or Marvel, or documentaries about giant sea turtles. My vice is ‘quirky’ comedy-dramas. I love them. Juno is probably my favourite movie of all time, Me Earl and the Dying Girl, Easy A, Scott Pilgrim, any of them, all of them. This may signal how susceptible I am to marketing, considering I am pretty much the embodiment of the target audience for these films, but nevermind. I love this kind of film. I watched many of them in my childhood, before I became the cynical film critic with a taste for the avant-garde I am today. I am able to revisit these films and feel the same love I felt for them the first time, but that feeling is difficult to replicate in the present day. New films from this genre just don’t do it for me in the same way. To my delight, Ninjababy was an exception.

The premise almost seemed too perfectly suited to my tastes. Ninjababy is a part-animated, part-live action Norwegian film about an illustrator and university dropout in her twenties named Rakel (Kristine Thorp) who finds out she is six months pregnant and had no idea. She wants nothing less than to become a mother, and spends most of the film running around like a headless chicken, essentially trying to get rid of her unborn child. It’s a rare occasion that I laugh out loud at films, but Ninjababy managed to elicit dozens of laughs with its witty, observational humour and clever writing.

The supporting cast are a classic lovely, eclectic mix of people who surround our lovely, eclectic main character. Of course, there is the baby’s father, initially assumed to be Mos (Nader Khademi), a one night-stand and a lovely man you can’t help rooting for as he pursues Rakel. Then there’s the baby’s actual father, Dick Jesus (Arthur Berning), who has a “Blaze the Lord” poster on the wall and who tries to sleep with Rakel immediately after she tells him she’s six months pregnant with their unwanted child. Rakel’s no-nonsense older sister and her some-nonsense roommate round out the cast. All of the characters induce their fair share of eye rolls but are ultimately sympathetic, primarily because they feel real.

The one element I was disappointed in was the animation. I’m a big fan of animated film as a genre, and a live action film featuring hand-drawn animations is not something you see often. However, the tagline oversold the role animations played in the final film. The ‘animated’ part of the film ended up only being conversations between Rakel and her Ninjababy (voiced by Skam’s Herman Tømmeraas), in the style of Lizzie McGuire. I was disappointed, because I had expected more. Had Ninjababy not sold itself on its animations, I would have been more receptive to them. 

But overall, Ninjababy takes a funny, sharp feminist lens to womanhood and unwanted pregnancies. Rakel becomes attached to her Ninjababy, yet remains adamant in her rejection of motherhood. And it’s not just circumstantial – Rakel doesn’t want to become a mother, at all. Despite her attachment to her child and her concerns for his wellbeing, she never wavers from her position. Ninjababy rejects any notion that women have some inherent mothering instinct that kicks in when they get pregnant or old enough, which, when we observe the amount of pressure still placed on young women to settle down, marry, and get pregnant, is rather radical.

Ninjababy screened as part of the Generation14 Plus category at Berlinale 2021.

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