Film Review: First Comes Love

Vanity production about a 41-year-old unmarried documentary filmmaker from a prosperous family who decides to have a baby rambles considerably but delivers occasional moments of interest and surprise.

Just like the newborn baby it features, First Comes Love, opening for a brief theatrical run, belongs at home. And so this sometimes bouncy, often meandering bundle arrives via HBO delivery beginning July 29. Filmmaker Nina Davenport, who did the 2000 HBO doc Always a Bridesmaid, her initial autobiographical tear for HBO, continues in this confessional vein here as she documents her irrepressible desire to have a baby.

First Comes Urge could have been the alternate title, as Davenport is so single-mindedly determined to become a mom. Her late mother’s abundant love for her seems a key factor, but Davenport herself is fiercely motivated. She’s fortunate to have an army of family and friends around to add support, including a sister-in-law who encourages her to put down the camera, acquire sperm and go get pregnant, and best friend Amy, which whom she shares a history of unsuccessful dates with men and who agrees to serve as a kind of surrogate parent to the baby.

The flies in this ointment are, at first, Eric, Davenport’s close gay friend from college who is reluctant to donate sperm, and her father, a retired Ford executive living so very comfortably, like the rest of this wealthy, successful and largely Ivy League-educated family. He’s downright unpleasant and stuffy, telling his daughter when she gives him news of her baby-making plans that a single mother with a fatherless baby sounds so “ghetto.” He’d rather she just get married, forget this documentary career, and earn a real living.

Finally, Eric, assured that he’ll have no responsibilities for the child, agrees to donate sperm. He prepares by trolling the Web for porn to make sure the plumbing is good. The first stab at in-vitro fertilization works and Davenport becomes pregnant. She goes through the whole routine, providing audiences with plenty of voiceover commentary and brave looks at what she goes through.

The doc often drifts to old home movies of her family, interludes with Davenport’s nieces and nephews, her single-mother friends, a visit from her current West Coast boyfriend (film critic John Anderson) and much more that seems more filler than relevant.

The very pregnant and plump Nina bobbing in the bathtub is just one moment of the filmmaker’s bravery in giving the whole story, surpassed only by scenes of her actually giving birth (with an audience of friends and family on hand) and her rather disturbing post-natal condition.

The doc generously shows Davenport with her very cute baby Jason, who reaches two by film’s end. But the family drama that simmers beneath is really what intrigues: the questionable quality of her parents’ marriage and the disturbing truths that hint at her father’s harsh, unloving behavior towards her. The doc also provokes thoughts about the value of New York dating, having a child, becoming a committed parent. But First Comes Love raises one interesting question—even articulated by some of the main participants—that it doesn’t answer: Why are some people so driven to have children and others not at all?