Film Review: The Pill

A surprising delight from start to finish, this is one rom-com with serious, and very funny, nerve.

A spirited modern screwball comedy, The Pill gives that genre’s classic trope, of a wacky, strong-minded heroine leading her more “normal,” passive male partner by the nose through all manner of quirky travails before the final inevitable embrace, a vigorous airing. The essential reasons for the guy even sticking around this polar opposite of a feminine personality ranged from William Powell needing a butler job from Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey to Cary Grant needing money for his scientific research (and a dinosaur bone) from Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby, to Henry Fonda being just plain besotted by shady Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve.

In The Pill, writer-director J.C. Khoury comes up with a terrifically original new premise and, this being a grittier millennium, it is firmly, beautifully rooted in reality. Highly malleable nice guy Fred (Noah Bean) hooks up with nutty Mindy (Rachel Boston) in a bar, has scary unprotected sex with her at her behest and then is horrified to discover that she is not on the pill. “I know my body,” she proudly proclaims and also says she is a practicing Catholic averse to contraception. Unwilling to be any kind of a proud papa, Fred’s sudden, urgent mission in life becomes getting her to take a “morning after” pill swiftly purchased at the nearest pharmacy. Additionally, she must also take a second pill 12 hours later, precluding any chance for him to beat a hasty exit from this head case. They spend a crazy day together, complicated by an encounter with Mindy’s screwy family and the return to town of Fred’s fiancée Nelly (an excellent Anna Chlumsky), firmly in the screwball tradition of attractive but bossy, humorless future matriarchs.

Aided by wonderfully bright and clean cinematography by Andreas von Scheele, Khoury keeps his blithely raunchy confection spinning agreeably, with laughs aplenty stemming from that best ingredient for comedy: surprise. Unlike those 1930s-40s farces, with their glossy, glamorous ambiances, The Pill is very 2012 Manhattan, in its shrewdly unblinking observation of details like that none-too-clean, overcrowded bathroom sink in Mindy’s apartment. (As if that weren’t off-putting enough, Fred also espies a used condom in the trash, which Mindy blithely tells him was her roommate’s, the first of many a lie to come.) You’ll find yourself smiling at the ingratiating silliness, as you watch Fred frantically dash back and forth between the women, with text-messaging often the infernal fuel for the plot proceedings.

The performances are an invaluable boon. Bean at times resembles Tom Cruise’s goofier younger brother, and gives an attractively understated, highly sympathetic performance which recalls the early work of Jack Lemmon in the hands of Cukor and Wilder. Boston often repels while she attracts, as every guy’s nightmare of a one-night stand, possessing a tenacity nearly as frightening as Glenn Close’s in Fatal Attraction, who somehow still has that certain thing which keeps you coming back for more. She’s hilarious in her wide-eyed response to the truth behind that aforementioned condom: “Oh, so just because I slept with another guy, I’m a whore?!” Then there’s the scene in which she asks Fred to help her move stuff out of an apartment occupied by her black former roommate (Al Thompson), who turns out to be her angrily sorrowful ex-boyfriend. The humor in her character—and much of the film—is how she is somehow able to play her insanely single-minded self-absorption in a way to elicit nothing but abashed apologies from Fred, who, if anything, is usually the hideously discomfited, wronged party.

Jean Brassard, who I’ve seen give a remarkable live musical cabaret turn portraying the great Yves Montand, displays another side to his formidable talent, as Mindy’s very funny French father, Renault. Intense and rude and charming in that specifically Gallic way, he offers a comic gem here, advising aspiring novelist Fred to take business classes (“as a fallback”) moments after they’ve first met. Poor Fred puts his foot in his mouth when he observes how much younger Mindy’s little brother is than she and her sister, to which Renault blandly responds within earshot of the child, “Yes, and we couldn’t love him more than if he’d been really planned.”