PARK CITY, UTAH — The Mother of Dragons becomes The Mother of An Artificially Grown Fetus in “The Pod Generation,” a wobbly new science-fiction comedy that premiered Thursday night at the Sundance Film Festival.
Emilia Clarke from “Game of Thrones” stars in the satire of our increasingly close relationship with technology as Rachel, a futuristic workaholic who decides to have a baby using a “pod,” an egg-shaped, electronic device in which a fetus develops outside the mother’s body.
Running time: 101 minutes. Not yet rated.
It’s the hottest trend in New York — which in a few decades will be clean, gleaming and somehow spacious! — and there’s an original-iPhone-style waitlist for the privilege. For many, there are only upsides: ambitious types no longer need to take maternity leave from the office, or do any harm to their figures.
Of course, like a lot of hyped-up gadgets, Humpty Dumpty looks totally ridiculous. Moms-to-be awkwardly lug their cumbersome pods on the subway in a harness, earning judgmental glares from actual pregnant women.
But intensely focused, bliss-seeking Rachel doesn’t care about raised brows.
When she gets to the enviable front of the line, she pushes her unwitting husband Alvy (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to sign up with the pod’s Stepford Wifey founder Linda (Rosalie Craig). That’s a tough task. Alvy is a proud university botanist in a society that’s gradually doing away with the natural world (instead of hikes, people go inside “nature pods”), and he is skeptical of anything that defies what it is to be human, such as an Easy Bake Oven for babies.
Nonetheless, he relents and surprisingly starts to grow attached to the digi-mom.
Meanwhile, we start to become antsy for more drama and less clever exposition. Only a fraction of a frisson comes from Rachel’s simmering insecurities as she struggles to develop a maternal connection to this idling Womba that rests on a glowing charger, vacuum style. It’s funny when she consults her artificial therapist, a giant floating eye positioned in the middle of a wreath like some freaky goddess. Yet, considering all her emotional turmoil, Rachel never raises her voice, and her and Alvy don’t have any fights.
Despite not having much meat to chew on, Clarke is solid and makes a statement that she can do domesticity as well as dragons. Rachel is a tad cool to the touch, though. Ejiofor, playing charismatic Alvy, is easier to embrace as he voices all our own doubts about this absurd situation.
Writer-director Sophie Barthes nobly resists the urge to succumb to an explosive dystopian conclusion a la “Black Mirror,” which is what her film otherwise feels like. However, in keeping “Pod Generation” a light comedy that pokes fun at topics as wide-ranging as Amazon’s Alexa and warring feminist sects, we grow weary of the monotony. The ending believes itself to be much more satisfying than it actually is.
A rather obvious “Brave New World” “a-ha!” moment comes a little while before that. In our ruthless quest for convenience, Barthes’ film suggests, we’ve handed our intimate lives over to corporations. Right now, it’s data; soon, it could be birth.
That’s all well and good. But a movie needs more than a smart idea and an impressively visualized concept of the future to run smoothly. Two thirds of the way through, “The Pod Generation”‘s battery is already at 1%.
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