Writer/director Julian Branciforte tackles an astronomical coincidence with an air of levity in his feature length directorial debut, which pits struggling photographer Robert Lang against his father, the wealthy, dominating Harry. Already slightly estranged, the two find themselves debating the paternity of an adorable daughter after realizing that they both had a one-night stand with the same woman four years prior. “Don’t Worry Baby” uses its central dilemma as a means to chart parent-child relationships and the pursuit of independence thereof. Yet in spite of such nightmarish plot and heavy themes, the film proves to be a loveable delicacy.
Early on, the film establishes itself as more of a comedy more than a drama, and it shows: if one’s chest contains a heart, it is quite difficult to not smile throughout. With a fantastic score, rhythmic editing and a brisk 88-minute runtime, the film practically disappears. Hilarious and upbeat, it retains a familial core but does not allow itself to be bogged by sadder things. Perhaps this, and its sentimentality, explains why long exposure leaves a bit of a saccharine aftertaste. The gravity of the situation feels diluted by its aversion to drearier developments as significant emotional resonance is sacrificed, making way for a quirky and enjoyable little romp which impacts only occasionally before shrugging any heartbreak off in favor of simple contentment.
John Magaro, in his first leading role after playing supporting characters in great recent films such as “Carol” and “The Big Short” really proves that he can stand on his own. His character, the down-on-his-luck junior Lang, is not a particularly unique one — and the angst-filled millennial is never too fun to watch. With a charisma and a believable dorkiness that is entirely relatable however, he really sells the role: sympathetic and compelling. Christopher McDonald’s Harry feels archetypical as well, a bloated caricature of the distant father. This philandering juggernaut feels just too villainous, though, as he cheats on his wife with countless young women, stomps on his son’s dreams of a career pursuing photography, and above all, feels no sympathy for doing any of it. Regardless, his performance is impossibly real, always hinting at redemption around the corner. Dreama Walker rounds out the trio as the mother Sara Beth whom the film, in a commendable showcase of contemporary maturity, never shames; Tom Lipinski supports as Robert’s roommate and best friend, contributing to the film’s lightness by providing apt comedic relief as well as an endearing sense of camaraderie.
The daughter, Mason (portrayed by Rainn Williams) as a catalyst works extremely well here, offering both Robert and Harry a means to change their ways. To the elder, she is a second chance – hinting at knowledge that he did wrong, even if his hubris doesn’t allow him to recognize that — and to the son, she is a chance at adulthood and a chance to fulfill responsibility. Scenes in which the three are together manage to be heartwarming with a tinge of melancholy, especially with the results of the paternity test at the end of the week closing in on the two, who genuinely appear to love the child.
Though it attempts to sell a fairytale with its follow-your-dreams sentimentalism, it believes so strongly in its own product that it becomes extremely hard not to fall for the film’s optimistic idealism. Delightful and comforting, its title serves as a reminder to young and old filmgoers alike (though mostly young) that everything will be alright in the end. Even if it does shy away from harsher truths, Branciforte’s inaugural feature is a joy to watch. [B-]