There’s an ever-expanding genre of films about young women who find themselves pregnant and have no desire to remain pregnant. Most take themselves a bit more seriously than Norway’s latest dark comedy Ninjababy. With vibrant animated flourishes and an unexpectedly endearing heroine whose sudden pregnancy revelation forces her to grow up, Ninjababy is one of the most pleasant surprises of the year — it’s a wildly creative, irreverent coming-of-age story that has so much charm and vitality that it can’t help but win you over.
“The art of falling,” aikido instructor Mos (Nader Khademi) intones, “There’s something beautiful about turning a situation where you’re about to fall down to gracefully getting back on your feet, gaining the upper hand.” That’s Ninjababy in a nutshell. When aspiring cartoonist Rakel (Kristine Kujath Thorp) discovers that she’s unexpectedly several months pregnant, her world is turned upside down. She’s not only unprepared to be a mother (Rakel is depicted as living in a state of arrested development), she’s fairly certain that she has no intention of ever wanting to be a mother. Still, she feels a certain responsibility for what she terms her ninjababy (so named because it managed to sneak around in her uterus evading detection for all of seven months) and struggles to decide what to do with it. Abortion is off the table — her baby is too old for that. She considers adoption, giving it to her older half-sister, who has been struggling with fertility, even keeping it. But as she considers the future of this new baby, she is forced to begin to think about her own future.
Underscoring this compelling coming-of-age narrative is a frenetic imagined conversation that exists between Rakel and her unborn child. She envisions him as a foul-mouthed little cartoon figure who nitpicks her every decision and is horrified by the life she’s building for him. This is the most entertaining aspect of Ninjababy, a continuing motif that gives us tremendous insight into Rakel’s character and how she views herself.
Their conversations run the gamut from absurdly humorous, as he mocks the posters on the walls of his biological father’s apartment, to the unexpectedly poignant, as he worries about what his life will be like without her in it. This whole plot element is an inspired way of approaching all the complicated feelings of a woman deciding to give her child away — without coming out and telling you what Rakel’s thinking, the neuroses of her imagined child make it all too obvious. The animation itself is cleverly designed, evoking childish, naughty scribblings in the margins of a notebook that reveal the artist’s subconscious.
Ninjababy is rounded out by a cast of engaging, endearing supporting characters, all of whom find different ways of helping Rakel through her struggles. Mos is a delightful ray of light, the nerdy aikido instructor who is briefly assumed to be the baby’s father, and the dynamic between him and Rakel is surprisingly sweet, despite all of Rakel’s natural inclinations to avoid a stable and loving relationship. Her former lover, known only as Jesus Dick (Arthur Berning), is a hilarious contribution to the cast, foolish in the eyes of Rakel but one of the most level-headed players in this whole pregnancy fiasco.
Ninjababy effortlessly shifts in tone, reflecting the mercurial moods of its heroine. When Rakel refuses to take anything in her life seriously, it takes on a cheekily mocking comedy style that turns its aim on everyone and everything she finds ridiculous. But there are also moments of self-doubt and even self-loathing, where Ninjababy finds its heart and evokes the sensibility of a sincere drama. So well-orchestrated are these nuances that it takes the audience along for the ride, from the crudest jokes to the most emotionally devastating moments. It’s the rare film that manages to accomplish both with the same skillfulness, and Ninjababy does so with humor and grace.