Scrambled Review: A Fiercely Funny Film About The Complexities Of Female Fertility [SXSW 2023]

Even though there's been a significant rise in raunchy comedies that put female characters in the driver's seat, thanks in part to the success of movies like "Bridesmaids" and "Trainwreck," most of them are rom-coms that firmly rely on the blend of both romance and R-rated comedy. However, "Scrambled," from writer-director Leah McKendrick, stands out among the crowd as a movie that isn't nearly concerned with finding true love. Instead, the film focuses on thirtysomething Nellie (played by McKendrick) as she begins to explore the peaks and valleys of female fertility. 

Nellie is swimming in a sea of weddings, engagement parties, baby showers, and friends who are leaving their younger transgressions behind in favor of a future with a family. While attending her friend Sheila's (Ego Nwodim) nuptials, where Sheila reveals that she's also pregnant, Nellie takes some Molly and reconnects with her old friend Monroe (June Diane Raphael), the former alpha of her friend group. But rather than making for just a friendly reunion at the reception, Monroe offers some sobering advice: Having kids at 40 by way of in vitro fertilization was one of the most expensive and harrowing experiences of her life, and Nellie should consider taking full advantage of her 30s by freezing the healthy eggs she has before it's too late.

It's not exactly the reality that Nellie wants to be faced with when she's fresh off a breakup and barely getting by financially by selling jewelry on Etsy. But after some hilariously blunt conversations with her practical yet clueless dad (Clancy Brown in a fatherly role he should play more often), her concerned mother (Laura Cerón), and her successful, sarcastic brother (Andrew Santino), Nellie decides to begin the journey into freezing her eggs. But that's just one part of her story.

Fertile but unexplored territory

Bringing a touch of romance into the proceedings, Nellie embarks on a trip down memory lane, reconnecting with old flings and flames in the hopes of finding someone who might make a worthy suitor and future father. In between hormone injections that she has to stab into her belly and doctors visits for ultrasounds, Nellie meets up with a series of men, each given a little animated credit with labels like "The Prom King, "The Burning Man," or "The Nice Guy," with the latter going exactly the way you'd think that someone who seems like a typical "nice guy" might behave. It's a smorgasbord of douchebaggery that is ripe for comedy. 

It's the blend of Nellie's experience with in vitro fertilization (inspired by Leah McKendrick's own life) and her attempted romances that make for a heartfelt yet hilarious journey of self-discovery and self-love. The story that begins with Nellie succumbing to the pressures of her age and how she should proceed in her life as a woman turns into something that we haven't seen addressed so prominently or effectively in any romantic comedy out there. As McKendrick noted in a statement released in conjunction with the film's premiere:

"As a woman, you are expected to be eternally youthful, fertile and untapped, yet sexually available-but only with your person. But what if you don't have a person? Why don't you have a person? Find your person, but DON'T SETTLE. "The most important career choice you'll make is who you choose to marry." #LeanIn! Except your career won't keep you warm at night. Take your time, when they're the one, you'll FEEL it. Oops, you're out of time! THE F*** have you been doing? Love is a CHOICE not a feeling! Now you're old-balls, everyone is taken, you blew your baby-making years. Why are you so obsessed with babies — is this 'The Handmaid's Tale?' You call yourself a feminist?! As I stood alone in my apartment injecting my belly with hormones I mixed myself, I thought, where is the movie about this?"

So McKendrick made the movie herself, and the result is laugh-out-loud funny and resonantly emotional, anchored by her star-making turn as both an actress and a filmmaker.

Leah McKendrick is a star

While McKendrick follows in the footsteps of female filmmakers like Lena Dunham ("Girls"), Amy Schumer ("Trainwreck"), Leslye Headland ("Bachelorette"), or Lorene Scafaria ("Hustlers), by providing a refreshing portrayal of the female perspective that is rarely captured so earnestly, perhaps the best comparison to draw would be to Gillian Robespierre and her film "Obvious Child," which focused on a comedian played by Jenny Slate who ends up pregnant after a perceived one-night stand and opts to have an abortion. Robespierre hoped to change the representation of unplanned pregnancy on film and get rid of the stigma surrounding abortion by crafting a comedy that was funny but also true to life. McKendrick does the same thing for female fertility, and she does so with confidence exuded through every single frame of this fantastic film.  The film ranges from riotously disappointing hook-ups to a touching reproductive loss therapy session. The comedy never feels misplaced, and the drama always feels genuine and earned. 

"Scrambled" has razor-sharp wit, with McKendrick driving the film with an energy that is both feisty and vulnerable, reminding one of Portia DeRossi in "Arrested Development," but with a thoughtfulness that evokes "Sex and the City." There's also a pulsating soundtrack that injects the film with a vibe that echoes Nellie's youthful exuberance, even in the face of life's hurdles. At times, the movie feels like an episode in a celebrated HBO comedy series that's been on the air for a couple of seasons. Jokes fly fast, there's no shyness when it comes to sex, and we come to care about Nellie in a very short period of time, even as she makes some ill-advised decisions here and there. But perhaps most importantly, "Scrambled" is a film that encourages self-love that doesn't crumble under the inevitable scrutiny of everyone around you, whether you are able to freeze your eggs or not.

/Film Rating: 9 out of 10