LA Film Festival Review: 20 Weeks is a Small Film that Asks Big Questions.
Picking what to see at a film festival is no easy task. There are hundreds of films to choose from with very little promotion or word of mouth to help sway the decision making process. My approach to a film festival schedule is probably pretty common with most other attendees. I first go through the festival program and look for directors and/or actors that I like or recognize. I read the description of those films and make a list of the ones that I want to see based on the people involved combined with the plot description. This process makes up about 50% of my schedule regardless of how big or small the festival is.
Once that process is done, I go through the program again and read the description for each film. This is where I find the films that make up the remaining 50% of my schedule. These are usually films that don’t feature household names but have a plot description that sounds intriguing or different. This is how I found the film 20 Weeks.
Written and Directed by Leena Pendharkar, 20 Weeks is a small film that asks big questions. The film focuses on Ronan (Amir Arison) and Maya (Anna Margaret Hollyman), a happy couple that is thinking about having a baby. Ronan knows that he wants children while Maya is worried about how a child will impact her daily life and career. After a long conversation about what they want in life, Ronan and Maya decide to have a child. Maya begins to feel more at ease during her pregnancy, however, all that changes at the 20-week. It is during the 20-week ultrasound appointment where the couple learns that something may be wrong with their baby. Now, Ronan and Maya are forced to make the biggest decision of their lives: How should they proceed after learning that their child-to-be has been diagnosed with a serious medical condition.
20 Weeks is the type of film that will spark a conversation. It is an incredibly heavy film as it raises big questions that you can’t help but think about for hours, if not days, after seeing the film. Like the majority of indie films, 20 Weeks is grounded in reality and the subject of a serious diagnosis during a pregnancy is an unfortunate issue that sadly hundreds of people face on a daily basis. The idea of just knowing about the sex of a child prior to giving birth is a conversation that couples often have. However, learning that your child may be born with a life-altering health issue and deciding what happens next is a much larger and controversial debate.
Ronan and Maya are faced with a decision that is very troubling and puts a lot of pressure on their relationship. Early in the film, we learn that Ronan clearly wants children and even tells Maya that not having one is a deal breaker. There is a great scene where Ronan and Maya meet one of Ronan’s friends who has a son. Ronan instantly hits it off with the little boy and you can see that fatherly instinct in Ronan’s eyes. Maya, however, isn’t sold on having children. She worries about how being a mom is going to change her life and worries that she will no longer be able to write. These are real things that real couples talk about. Real fears and real conversations.
Anna Margaret Hollyman and Amir Arison pour their heart and soul into the film. You can tell that these actors dug deep and weren’t afraid of committed to telling this story. You can see on their faces that as actors they are struggling with the ethical decision that their characters are forced to make. These actors are dedicated to delivering genuine performances and are pushing themselves to do the story justice. I don’t think there are many actors working today that could have pulled off the emotional weight and intensity that Hollyman and Arison brought to the screen. This might be an indie film but that doesn’t mean the performances aren’t as notable as many of the performances found in an Oscar-nominated film. Arison and Hollyman are just that damn good here.
Leena Pendharkar presents her story in a very non-traditional way. The film is told from a non-linear perspective so the story often goes back and forth between the past and present day. This is definitely not the type of film that you can casually watch. 20 Weeks requires the viewer to focus and devote 90 minutes of their time in order to fully comprehend and understand everything that this couple is facing and how their relationship has grown and changed since they met.
Pendharkar as a writer/director was able to do a lot with so little. She was able to get the audience to think about things such as quality of life, children with disabilities, health care, and much more. These are all topics that aren’t easy to tackle but this film will certainly get you thinking and talking. It also should be mentioned that Pendharkar tackles a touchy subject matter with such grace and dedication. She never attempts to give the audience answers or pick sides but instead brings up topics and let the viewer answer the question for themselves.
Needless to say, 20 Weeks isn’t a film for everyone but that isn’t a bad thing. 20 Weeks is a must see for those who aren’t afraid of thought-provoking dramas that tackle risky subject matters. It is an emotional roller coaster of a film lead by two terrific performances. I applaud Pendharkar for bringing what seems like a truly personal story to life. 20 Weeks is heart-wrenching and powerful. This is the very definition of brave filmmaking and is something that deserves to be seen.
Scott “Movie Man” Menzel’s rating for 20 Weeks is a 8 out of 10.