Yngvild Sve Flikke’s sophomore feature, Ninjababy, is not unlike maternity-driven narrative comedies you might’ve seen in your heyday, except you’ve probably never seen one so well decorated with animated interludes and characters in between scenes and segments. This was an interesting story to watch unfold with graphic visual artistry key to the progression of the story with actress Kristine Kujath Thorp leading the cast from a script by Flikke and by Johan Fasting and Inga Sætre.
We meet 23-year old Rakel (Thorp), a struggling comic artist with dreams of being more than what and where she is now, whilst spending most of her days either in her cluttered room and mustering what motivation she can to get her concepts off the ground, or getting hella wasted and philandering. She doesn’t sleep around like crazy though, but just enough to possibly recall and recognize from moment to moment who she might have bedded at one point. Her latest reluctant query is the teacher of her roommate Ingrid’s aikido class, Mos (Nader Khademi), who no less shares a similar memory, and maybe even more.
Still, short of engaging any romantic queries to their fullest extent, Rakel’s already full plate is about to pool over with a startling revelation, weeks and months deep into what turns out to be a six-month pregnancy. Panicked and unwilling to be a mother, Rakel decides to narrow down her previous sexual partners – including a man named Dick Jesus (Arthur Berning) who she suspects is the birthfather – while trying multiple avenues to avoid motherhood at a time when she doesn’t feel ready, though it’s not too long before her conscience starts knocking on the door in the form of an animated comic baby with a ninja mask (VO actor Herman Tømmeraas).
Little more than just a comedic oddity where the protagonist finds themselves hounded by an imaginary character, Ninjababy is an artfully-executed depiction of a woman trying to vie for her own personhood amid all the complexities of her situation, from desperately seeking an abortion to even going above and beyond to investigate counseling centers under an alias to intercept and screen couples looking to adopt children to make sure her baby lands in the right home.
Adding further to Rakel’s bustling contemplation are the unrequited feelings Mos has for her opposite her own, while trying to mitigating Dick’s own sudden introspection about fatherhood. The central focus though, is Rakel’s own wrestling with the Ninjababy, whose very influence starts to weigh heavily on Rakel to the point where her own discontentment with being a mother ensues a tearful manifestation, and a fear of the worst.
At its core, Ninjababy is a presentation of the measure of one woman’s character as she’s confronted by momentous, messy and otherwise unique circumstances. Thorp’s performance strikes a chord every step of the way as her character develops between every stifling moment of her own stubbornness and internalized pain and vulnerability. There’s a love story between characters Rakel and Mos that lends a painstaking view into uncertainty, one that might have you either rooting for the aikido teacher who wore a condom and loves the hell out of Rakel, or the well-endowed philanderer who wears his name like the prized poster promoting marijuana use he keeps in his home.
However the romantic prospects though, Flikke’s Ninjababy never loses focus. The heart and soul go right to Rakel and the future that could await her, and the responsibilities and measures of self-worth and self-love to which she must cosign if she’s to ever find her own sense of peace. Telling this story with a formula that melds real-life with animation, and mature comedy that pushes the envelope a bit is something that imbues a film like Ninjababy to leave the sorts of impressions that it has. That the film is already an award-winning hit and crowd favorite with some festival audiences which ought to serve Flikke’s posterity well as she segues onto her next project.
Ninjababy is screening for the North Bend Film Festival through July 18.