Joshua Leonard has only made two films over the last decade, but both feel like the work of someone who has spent each day perfecting their craft. The couple in his debut feature, “The Lie,” was so fleshed out, so recognizably human, that the events could have passed for non-fiction. Comprised of scenes based on real-life scenarios—changing diapers, using the baby to get out of obligations—Leonard playfully asked parents: How much are you willing to give up for your kids? The question remains in “Fully Realized Humans,” though not without a twist: What are couples willing to try in the months leading up to labor? A lot, apparently.
Elliot (Leonard) and Jackie (Jess Weixler) are taking experimentation to a whole new level. While most couples want to travel or skydive before parenthood, their bucket list includes pegging and face-punching. It’s the sort of madcap shenanigans you expect from a “last hurrah” comedy, but Leonard is wise enough to give these well-worn tropes urgency, telling a serious story with a sarcastic tone.
This abundantly charming and undeniably cute tale of human connection invites audiences to laugh at a confusing time in life while addressing sexual taboos along the way. Doing most of the addressing is Elliot, an Angelino hipster who is constantly the butt of the joke (especially when it comes to pegging). He struggles with masculinity, a problem dating back to his father’s (Tom Bower) homophobic slurs, and figures its time to face his issue (pardon the pun) head-on. But not before a baby shower nearly spirals his life out of control. When the dreaded words “crib death” and “vaginal ripping” are casually tossed around at brunch, it’s almost enough to push Elliot and Jackie over sanity’s edge.
Yet, like everything else in the film, humor is their saving grace. Part of the couple’s appeal, and most of the movie’s zeal, comes from Elliot and Jackie’s shrugged demeanor. Whenever something serious happens, you can bet on Jackie to have a hilarious one-liner at the ready. “Our friends suck,” she says with a straight face after brunch. “We’re so much cooler than them.” And they are kinda cool. You definitely won’t mind wandering Echo Park or exploring diverse pop-ups around L.A. with these nothing-to-lose thirty-somethings. Even a banal trip to a porn shop earns laughs.
It’s at home, however, where Leonard opens his character’s repressed feelings, slowly drawing us into terrifyingly familiar territory. Close up by close up, argument by argument, Elliot’s panic telegraphs the realization that he could become a terrible father just like his dad was to him. “What if the baby gets my anger problem?” he asks. Jackie isn’t convinced. “We’ll be fine,” she assures him as they cuddle on the couch. Sad moments like these are juxtaposed with abrupt bursts of banter, which is a nice way of showing how humor is the most natural way to cope with fear. It’s also the most natural way to keep your audience in a state of giddy anticipation.
One of the most affecting points “Fully Realized Humans” makes is that as much as we might like to, no one can laugh their problems away. Jackie still has mood swings, resulting in a shouting match over hummus. Elliot still needs to confront his father, resulting in a shouting match that turns into a warm, tear-jerking embrace. What they find amidst life’s cycles (cleverly mirrored by a soundtrack that jumps from punk-rock to Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”) is that mistakes are inevitable. No parent is perfect. But some movies can achieve that greatness, and this 74-minute roller coaster of emotions is about as flawless as microbudget dramedies get. [A-]