Elevate Difference

The Baby Formula

"Why shouldn't we have the chance to make our own babies, have our own children?”

That's one of the first lines spoken in The Baby Formula, a delightful award-winning Canadian mockumentary that took two honors in 2009: the Audience Award at the Toronto Inside Out Lesbian & Gay Film & Video Festival and Best LGBT Film at the Nashville Film Festival. Director and producer Alison Reid is also responsible for Succubus, the 2006 short film that served as the springboard from which the feature-length The Baby Formula was spawned (pun intended).

In the ancient world, Athena was the Greek goddess of wisdom, and Lilith was Adam's first wife, kicked out of the Garden of Eden in favor of Eve. In The Baby Formula, Athena and Lilith are a comfortably settled married couple who are about to become parents. Both are wise, defiant women, and they have decided to do things a little differently. See, these ladies are pregnant with each other's biological babies.

Shortly after the opening credits, we're taken inside the laboratory of two Canadian scientists being interviewed by a documentarian (Alison Reid). Both scientists—Dr. Oldenfield, a balding older man with a Scottish accent, and Jim, his younger awkward counterpart—claim they have made it possible to create life with artificial sperm generated from stem cells. In the wry words of Dr. Oldenfield, “People think we're making men obsolete; we're simply making them unnecessary.” “One day we'll make women unnecessary, too,” replies Jim.

It's a risky and controversial procedure, one that Athena willingly undergoes because she works for the lab and desires a family with Lilith. Athena is the first to get pregnant from artificial sperm created from Lilith's stem cells. When the two scientists are questioned about government approval for the procedure, they claim it won’t be approved for at least a decade, if at all.

While Athena is all aglow with baby on board, Lilith is jealous. She decides to also be pregnant, and gets inseminated with Athena's woman-sperm without Athena's permission. This being a comedy, we know this cannot be the only challenge for our dynamic duo. The tactless documentarian and her persistent crew contact Athena's deadbeat closet-case brother Larry, who swears that Lilith's baby is his. Larry threatens to expose the women, which could in turn expose their unique babies and cost Athena her job. The couple decide on a preemptive strike and gather both of their families together to tell them where their grandbabies were really coming from. As would be expected, that's when things get really interesting.

To say that The Baby Formula is simply a send-up of medical ethics and the lesbian baby boom would be a gross oversimplification. It gets its jabs in everywhere. For example, in one especially memorable scene, the film pokes fun at the cultural appropriation that underpins white middle class neoliberalism. Lilith and Athena are discussing possible baby names following a pregnant couples yoga class. Lilith plans to name her daughter Abigail after her grandmother, while Athena runs down a list of Japanese names. When Lilith points our that neither she nor her wife are Japanese, Athena hilariously defends herself by saying, “Hey, humanity is universal.”

In fact, The Baby Formula manages to achieve something many queer films haven't: a certain universal appeal. By introducing us to the couple's (very different) families, we are reminded of the ever-shifting dynamics every family faces when dealing with pregnancy and children. We see kids and parents learning from their mistakes, new parents quickly shifting gears from giddy to exhausted, and disparate families coming together in love during times of great sorrow. The Baby Formula even ends with a lively holiday party–which is most formulaic of happy family film endings–proving the long-standing hypothesis that no matter how they are conceived, every family borne from love is a real and valuable one.

Written by: M. Brianna Stallings, April 10th 2010