Saturday, March 2, 2024

“SCRAMBLED”

THE STORY – Perpetual bridesmaid Nellie Robinson always finds herself between weddings, baby showers, and bad dates. With her biological clock ticking, she decides to freeze her eggs and embark on an empowering journey of self-discovery.

THE CAST – Leah McKendrick, Clancy Brown, Ego Nwodim, Andrew Santino, Laura Cerón, Sterling Sulieman & Feodor Chin

THE TEAM – Leah McKendrick (Director/Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 97 Minutes


“Scrambled” premiered at last year’s SXSW festival and has received praise for its funny script. McKendrick, previously known for her acclaimed web series “Destroy the Alpha Gammas” and featured on the Black List as a screenwriter, makes a strong filmmaking debut (who also wrote it and stars in it) with a very personal movie. She based the protagonist’s experiences on her own; like the character Nellie, she decided to freeze her eggs. “Scrambled” ends up being enjoyable mainly due to McKendrick’s breezy, sharp script and her charming performance at the film’s center. It’s far from perfect, as the script doesn’t manage tonal shifts as well as it’d like to, but it’s still worth a watch.

The film begins with McKendrick’s Nellie attending the wedding of her good friend, Sheila (Ego Nwodin), as a bridesmaid – a common occurrence for her as of late. Nellie is, essentially, a perpetual bridesmaid who goes on bad dates and attends weddings and baby showers. At dinner with her family one night, she is reminded that her biological clock is ticking. Her dad and brother, in particular, tease and irk her about the fact that she, at 34, is unmarried, unattached, and childless. After learning that her fertility is [possibly] at risk, she decides to freeze her eggs. Because egg freezing is expensive – and her Etsy jewelry business isn’t going well – she asks for her rich, successful brother Jesse (Andrew Santino) to loan her the money. While in the process of all this, she tries to reconnect with old flames, trying to see who is “the one.” Things didn’t work out with her most recent ex-boyfriend, Sean, and people often ask her what’s going on with her and Sean, even though we, as the viewers, don’t find out until late in the film.

“Scrambled” sometimes bites off more than it can chew, with McKendrick’s script unable to fully manage the myriad of tones. It doesn’t help that Nellie is a rather unlikeable character, which makes it difficult – at least at first – to root for her. However, the film remains honest in its emotions and the representations of these different characters; sure, the stereotypical people, such as “the nice guy,” are exaggerated, but this is clearly intentional. McKendrick is obviously sensitive to the difficulties inherent in being a 30-something, single woman pressured to have children; although, to be sure, without this direct, personal experience, these events would undoubtedly appear less authentic. The pacing and well-timed remarks make the best of its 97-minute runtime, as the film never overstays its welcome.

As unlikeable as the character of Nellie is, we eventually sympathize with her and its other characters who are (meant to be) Millennials. It helps if the viewer – like yours truly – is a Millennial and can relate to Nellie’s challenges in finding a suitable partner, coupled with the pressure from outside forces and from herself to procreate before her biological clock runs out. Even those of different generations and/or circumstances can surely relate to disappointment with oneself and how one’s life is going. Despite the specificity of the narrative, “Scrambled” has the potential to reach larger, more varied audiences. Nellie isn’t exactly a “good egg,” but her intentions are rarely poor. For example, she sleeps with her old high school boyfriend after assuming he and his wife were permanently separated, only to discover that they are trying to work things out. This makes her mad, as she doesn’t want to be involved in that kind of thing; even though we don’t like her, we recognize that she’s not a horrible person.

In the lead role, McKendrick has such a charming presence that we end up being happy whenever she’s happy, especially once she has come to terms with who she is as a person. Of course, the film ends on a relatively predictable note, but there’s nothing wrong with watching the end of a movie with a smile on your face. The supporting cast is strong, too, and they all play off McKendrick’s frequently hyper, almost kinetic-like energy as Nellie. It’s always good to see Clancy Brown show up, even in more minor roles, and he fits the role of an aging father who pressures his daughter to give him grandchildren because there’s only so much time he has left. Comedian Santino is probably provided some of the funniest lines, and his teasing interactions with McKendrick are among the best in the film. “Saturday Night Live’s” Nwodim is also a solid presence, as you get the sense of the long-held friendship between Sheila and Nellie. Then, a handful of actors show up for one or two scenes, such as June Diane Raphael, Adam Rodriguez, and Yvonne Strahovski – while their screen times are limited, they make the best use of them.

“Scrambled” is often not afraid to go to very raunchy places and includes moments of humor and other bits of dialogue that reach the point of TMI. Sure, some of this humor is too broad for its own good, and there are only a few genuinely laugh-out-loud moments; it’s a highly goofy and specific brand of comedy that probably will not work for everyone. Plenty of predictably awkward and/or cringe-inducing segments are probably exaggerated for comedic effect but are still grounded in reality (mainly thanks to McKendrick’s performance). The sex scenes, too, are pretty awkward in general, especially when Nellie has to be careful due to the egg-freezing procedures.

This is also in line with the script’s inability to integrate the comedic bits with the more dramatic ones fully, and the more emotional parts do appear at least semi-forced at times. McKendrick’s filmmaking is sometimes highly stylized, mainly when slow-motion is utilized, perhaps even over-utilized. Also, how the stereotypical guys are presented doesn’t necessarily fit in with the rest of the film’s vibe, even though she should be applauded for having this unique vision. There are also numerous pop culture and/or modern references, from “Euphoria” to Dr. Fauci. Fortunately, they aren’t too frequent, and it makes sense that a woman of that age would reference such things. Nellie also mentions that she’s still on her family’s cell phone plan, which is funny but true, as it’s not uncommon for Millennials to do such things. “Scrambled” also features some really great needle drops, most notably an early Mandy Moore song that had this female Millennial practically fist-pumping. And, when you see Nellie dancing to Robinson’s infectious tune “Nothing to Regret,” it’s nearly impossible not to smile.

In a way, “Scrambled” is actually a coming-of-age story – just one that happens to be about a woman in her mid-30s. Nellie needs to discover more about herself, her wants, needs, etc., in order to be more comfortable with herself. And, yes, the film is rampant with stereotypical characters and situations, but that was clearly McKendrick’s intention. Additionally, as far as significant plot points go, much of what transpires is easy to predict, but that doesn’t make the journey any less enjoyable. In essence, McKendrick’s film is about the pressures of women in their 30s to settle down and have children before their biological clocks run out. This film is also an admirable first film for McKendrick, who has shown herself to be a unique voice and a compelling performer. Even though the tonal shifts from comedy to drama aren’t seamless, the film’s heartfelt nature is an unexpected delight.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Leah McKendrick is utterly charming in the lead role, supported by solid performances from the other actors. A sharp, funny, and surprisingly heartfelt script. The story is a unique, grounded take on the single, child-free Millennial.

THE BAD - At its core, it's a story we've seen before, and it's easy to predict where the story is going. McKendrick's filmmaking is a bit too stylized at times. Doesn't juggle the different tones as well as it could.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 7/10

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Alyssa Christian
Alyssa Christian
Longtime cinephile and self-described movie snob who’s probably too obsessed with awards season. Also an actor, writer, flutist, and vegan.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Leah McKendrick is utterly charming in the lead role, supported by solid performances from the other actors. A sharp, funny, and surprisingly heartfelt script. The story is a unique, grounded take on the single, child-free Millennial.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>At its core, it's a story we've seen before, and it's easy to predict where the story is going. McKendrick's filmmaking is a bit too stylized at times. Doesn't juggle the different tones as well as it could.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>7/10<br><br>"SCRAMBLED"