A “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” for the fertility treatment set, “Babysplitters” is often funnier than it has a right to be. It’s a chatty 90-minute farce that’s been stretched out to two hours, directed with functionality but no discernible style by Sam Friedlander. But Friedlander’s script has wit and an eye for absurdity, and the quartet of pros in the lead roles keep the comic momentum rolling forward even when the filmmaking seems set on grinding everything to a halt.
Two married couples, best friends, are each hung up on whether and when to have children. Sarah (Emily Chang) is ready and willing, but Jeff (Danny Pudi) keeps dithering; Don (Eddie Alfano) wants to be a father, but Taylor (Maiara Walsh) isn’t on board yet. One night at a restaurant, Jeff proposes a truly terrible idea: Why not time-share a child? That way, each couple can experience the joys of parenting and also the joys of farming the kid out to the other two when they need a break.
Complications, um, ensue. After a consultation with a fertility specialist (Mark Feuerstein) gives the four parental hopefuls sticker shock, they decide to collaborate the old-fashioned way, with the musclebound Don nervously impregnating Sarah while their respective spouses sit in an adjoining hotel room pretending everything is normal. The setup is ridiculous, but the playing is pure comedy of mortification and watch-through-your-fingers funny.
“Babysplitters” appears to be the kind of home-brewed production that turns the spotlight on lesser-known, hard-working film industry talents — actors with long resumes who rarely get the leads and directors who are tired of working second-unit. As the neurotic, self-sabotaging Jeff, Pudi is best known from a decade of costarring on NBC’s “Community,” while Chang was on the CW’s “Vampire Diaries” and other shows. Alfano you’ve seen playing any number of TV tough guys. The movie allows them the chance to be at the center of the story instead of enabling the main characters from the sidelines.
The actors rise to the occasion — the discovery that Sarah is carrying twins; the four-way bickerings over names; the twists and revelations that turn Jeff’s bad idea into a genuine catastrophe — even as Friedlander’s direction consists largely of one scene after another of actors sitting in a room talking. “Babysplitters” is preposterous if you think about it for more than a second, and the film certainly offers you that second and then some. (It also speed-bumps over a development to which most viewers would give more tragic weight.)
I still found myself strapping in for the ride, if only to spend time with congenial performers and see how a knotty situation unknots itself. (Hint: with far-fetched but satisfying plot curves.) “Babysplitters” is a movie made by and with people who want to prove what they’re capable of. It succeeds just enough to make you want to see them get what they deserve.
Written and directed by Sam Friedlander. Starring Danny Pudi, Emily Chang, Eddie Alfano, Maiara Walsh. Available on cable systems and streaming platforms. 120 minutes. Unrated (as R: lots of sex talk and a few cringe-inducing sexual situations).