20 WEEKS Review: Pregnancy Is Nine Long Months of Panic

It’s the most human thing in the world to dwell when things seem like they’re about to go horribly wrong. We cycle through our thoughts, pore over every action we took, and fret over every minute detail of our lives to find some meaning and a person or event to blame—and we perversely call it self-reflection. It’s the most socially acceptable form of torture. But here’s the thing: Sometimes things just don’t break your way. You can’t control it, and if you think you can, you’ll drive yourself to madness.

Photo credit: 20 Weeks/IMDb

That’s exactly what an obstetrician tells Maya and Ronan, a newly married couple, when they receive the news that the baby boy growing inside of Maya might have a host of severe genetic disorders riddling his tiny frame, in writer-director Leena Pendharkar’s 20 Weeks. Over the course of 90 tense minutes, Pendharkar destroys the psyches of her central characters as they build up guilt and terror for the safety of their unborn son and debate with each other (and with themselves) about whether to terminate the pregnancy to prevent the baby’s suffering—and their own.

Edited like a mosaic by David Hopper, we only get glimpses of Maya (Anna Margaret Hollyman) and Ronan’s (Amir Arison) story that placed them on the precipice of parenthood. His insistence that for them to have a future together that she has to want kids, her reluctance to want kids, and a host of untreated anxiety disorders feature prominently in semi-chronological scenes, juxtaposed with doctor appointments where the news gets worse and worse with each passing ultrasound.

Pendharkar’s penchant for dramatic irony is in fine form in these early scenes, showcasing the difference between saying what you’re supposed to say and really sticking it out during the latter half of the “for better or worse” wedding vow. This is clever and engrossing enough on is own, but Pendharkar slyly elevates this setup by changing from scene to scene which partner is ready to bolt for the exits. It’s a push and pull as these two people tear each other down and build each other up, from panicked trips to an abortion clinic to a baby store argument over a drab article of baby clothing that nearly leads to a divorce.

Given the stakes, running away and avoiding responsibility are understandable urges. “I’m spinning out here,” Ronan tells Maya the morning after they learn their little boy will be born with severe maladies. It’s a scene crafted and acted by folks who either experience acute anxiety themselves or love those who do. Arison performs this scene like every atom in Ronan is about to split apart after he spends a sleepless night Googling all the things that could limit his child. He takes a defensive posture, his voice shakes, his breathing is shallow and rapid, and his eyelids flutter like he’s guzzled a gallon of espresso, but for the first time in the film (perhaps the first time in the character’s life) Maya is centered and calm, the definition of zen, at least outwardly. Hollyman plays her as someone who is still terrified, but Maya has steeled herself and allowed for hope to sneak into the back of her mind—people overcome all kinds of things every day, after all, she tries to reassure herself and her husband.

Like the pregnancy it depicts, 20 Weeks has to end one way or another—and like the pregnancy, it’s a mixed bag. There’s a bold twist that isn’t entirely earned or paid off satisfactorily, but that’s life, isn’t it? In its ending’s messiness, the movie finds a rather realistic form of grace. It’s exhausted and maybe a little miserable, but also resolute. Broken people still have to wake up in the morning. Once the bad thing happens, that “self-reflection” and self-blame recedes into the background a bit. There’s still a sense of regret and longing. But hey, shit happens. If you’re lucky, you’ll still get to feel that momentary “this is fine” contentment when you see a kid smile.

Director: Leena Pendharkar
Writer: Leena Pendharkar
Starring: Anna Margaret Hollyman, Amir Arison, Sujata Day, Michelle Krusiec
Available now in limited release

20 WEEKS Review: Pregnancy Is Nine Long Months of Panic 20 WEEKS Review: Pregnancy Is Nine Long Months of Panic Reviewed by Rob Samuelson on Friday, April 13, 2018 Rating: 5
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