‘Fully Realized Humans’: Film Review | Tribeca 2020

Joshua Leonard reteams with Jess Weixler for ‘Fully Realized Humans,’ a seriocomic look at parents-to-be experiencing a collective identity crisis.

[Note: In the wake of the Tribeca festival’s postponement this year, The Hollywood Reporter is reviewing select fest entries that elected to screen digitally for critics.]

Joshua Leonard’s 2011 feature debut, The Lie, explored a sort of identity crisis that resulted when a new parent (Leonard) used his baby as an excuse to ditch work. The crisis starts earlier in Fully Realized Humans, which again sees Leonard and Jess Weixler playing a couple who perhaps shouldn’t be trusted with a baby. (This time around, the bundle of joy has yet to be delivered.) Though this freakout is more comic than the last, Humans cares sincerely about its protagonists’ navel-gazing earnestness, accepting the validity of their quest despite the nuttiness of the results. The pic will likely strike a chord with many audience members, bolstering Leonard’s and Weixler’s reps as tellers of unusual tales for kinda-sorta grown-ups.

The Bottom Line

A winningly odd balance of satire and sympathy.

We meet Elliot and Jackie in the airy studio of their doula Maya (Erica Chidi Cohen), who seems unfazed — for now — by the torrent of self-analysis pouring out from them. (Weixler actually was eight months pregnant during shooting; Leonard had recently become a father.) These are upper-middle-class Americans accustomed to having others listen to their problems, and in their defense, their efforts at self-improvement are sincere.

A baby shower given by friends further down the family-building path shakes their confidence. Partygoers — who a year ago were almost certainly assuring Jackie and Elliot that their lives wouldn’t be complete without a child — now offer exhausted warnings about the realities ahead. One especially uninhibited mom speaks graphically about vaginal ripping while her poor elementary school-age daughter sits right beside her. “Our friends suck,” Elliot and Jackie conclude, rightly.

So they decide that, in the four weeks before their baby is born, they will “shake it up,” doing things they’ve always wanted or never realized they needed to do. A joint elation takes hold, convincing the pair that this is their portal to non-crappy adulthood.

While it’s immediately clear that the filmmakers are amused by this project — a montage of rule-flouting set to Richard Hell’s “Blank Generation” won’t impress many viewers as genuinely transgressive — they also take it seriously at points, following up with plausible psychological after-effects. When, for instance, Jackie decides that she needs to take charge in the bedroom by using a strap-on — perhaps Leonard felt there was more to explore here after his experience in Lynn Shelton’s Humpday — the act pushes Elliot toward a possible emotional breakthrough. The question is whether he has any idea what to do with that new knowledge.

The film cycles affectionately through episodes that tease its heroes before arriving back at a point of sympathy. The narcissistic aspects of modern therapy culture make an easy target, but Weixler and Leonard never forget there’s a very concrete reason for all this foolishness — an about-to-arrive child. Jackie and Elliot desperately want not to recreate their own parents’ mistakes; while they’re hardly the first young people to make that pledge, they’re going to try everything they can dream up to keep it. Even, in the end, going to the source — for a family summit in which viewers may well have absolutely no idea what to expect.

Production companies: Perception Media, Paxeros Creative
Cast: Joshua Leonard, Jess Weixler, Tom Bower, Beth Grant, Michael Chieffo, Erica Chidi Cohen, Zach Sheilds
Director-executive producer: Joshua Leonard
Screenwriters: Joshua Leonard, Jess Weixler
Producers: Sean Drummond, Chelsea Bo
Director of photography: Benjamin Kasulke
Production designer: Oliver Johnson
Editors: Chelsea Bo, Joshua Leonard
Composers: Peter Raeburn, Luke Fabia
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (U.S. Narrative Competition)
Sales: Submarine, Josh Braun

76 minutes