Baby: The Secret Diary of a Mom to Be

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 08/25/20 02:41:30

"At its best when things seem crazy."
3 stars (Average)

SCREENING VIA THE 2020 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: It's probably not a great sign that the bits that caught my attention in "The Secret Diary of a Mom to Be" weren't really anything to do with the story but random things I didn't know about life in Hong Kong, like how professional athletes don't make a lot of money and how one of the things they ask at your job interview is your preferred method for entering Chinese characters into a computer. It's a sign of how observant the filmmaker is and how she's able to spin a movie out of little things, but it would be nice if the material at the center was as interesting as the stuff at the edges.

That center contains Carmen Yau (Dada Chan Ching), a PR manager at a Hong Kong sports stadium, and her husband Oscar Ching (Kevin Chu Kam-Yin), star of the basketball team that plays there. Carmen is up for a promotion to manage the company's facility in Vietnam, and doesn't figure anything will stand in the way - though all of her best friends are either pregnant or recent mothers, she's got a highly irregular period that makes conception very unlikely. But not, it turns out, impossible, and while her friends and co-workers are thrilled for her, she's not close to sure, especially once mother-in-law Margaret (Candice Yu On-On) finds out, bringing her friend Tam Yuk-Wing (Louis Cheung Kai-Chung), a popular childbirth consultant, in to help manage her pregnancy.

Margaret and Tam aren't the only people who feel free to make decisions for Carmen once they find out she's pregnant, and it's the seed for a potentially interesting story, as is Oscar feeling that he's got to become the family breadwinner now but not really equipped for it. Writer/director Jody Luk Yi-Sam doesn't exactly have much of a story lined up here, though - Carmen's job recedes into the background, Oscar picks up a new group of expecting/recent father friends ("Baba Club") to match Carmen's besties, and the movie becomes something of a split hangout picture with occasional bits of the couple together grousing about how the other doesn't understand. Eventually there's an well-worn suspected-infidelity plot to bring things to a climax that even the characters don't seem to believe in.

Maybe a little more could be made of it, but stars Dada Chan and Kevin Chu mostly come across as pleasant to watch, never seeming off in their performances but also seldom getting a chance to be bold in a way that will let them stand out. It's not really a big deal for Chu until he starts getting his own supporting cast in the second half of the film but not getting to do much more than give looks that say "so, they're kind of weird"; this is the secret diary of a mom to be, after all. Chan is a little more frustrating, though; she's excelled at playing attention-grabbing supporting roles but when put in the lead it immediately becomes clear that she does off-kilter better than identifiable, whether it's calling the cluster of cells in her uterus "you bitch" or being tormented by how Margaret and Tam have packed up her spike heels without asking.

Those scenes are also Luk at her best; whether on her own or when writing for others, her scripts have always had great moments in them, and Diary is no exception, whether it's frank and funny talk about the extremes of lactation or Carmen and Tam faking premature labor to test Oscar's response - one of Dada Chan's best scenes because Carmen trying to keep a straight face is delightful. She also gives Carmen genuinely creepy nightmares on occasion (it makes me wonder if the horror pastiche as the start of Love Off the Cuff was hers), and it reminded me that the most memorable moments in her directorial debut, Lazy Hazy Crazy, came when the film detoured into raunchy humor as opposed to sticking to a straight coming-of-age narrative.

This movie has the same issues - it comes alive when it gets specific and Luk can use the skills she's honed on brash comedies and genre work to dig into how weird and dizzying pregnancy can be, but becomes generic and kind of dull when the focus shifts to relatable drama. It never sinks far below a good baseline, but is rarely great enough to stand out.

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