Craig is a bit of a manchild, still late on his rent and riding around Los Angeles carefree on his bike. When his landlords — a young lesbian couple — pull him aside to ask him to donate his sperm so they can become parents, he initially declines, feeling like he doesn’t want the responsibility.
But during the conversation, Craig’s insecurity is triggered, and he lashes out. The careless words open a can of worms that cause everyone to question where they are in life — and maybe do a bit more growing up in the process.
Directed by Kirsten Kearse and written by Josh Brekhus (who also plays Craig), this warmhearted, witty dramedy leverages quirky, honest dialogue and endearing performances to explore the big questions we confront when we become adults: who do we want to be, what are we committed to and what we truly want from life. It finds humor in observing how people scramble when confronted with uncomfortable truths about themselves and their relationships and reveals a genuine affection in lightly exploring the vulnerabilities and longings underneath.
Told with a warm, naturalistic visual simplicity, the narrative setup is simple, with essentially three people in a room having a conversation. But the excellent dialogue is more than enough to explore these three characters’ distinctive perspectives. Craig is the main focal point, portrayed by Brekhus as an aimless but amiable Peter Pan type who hasn’t quite separated from his mother. This characterization isn’t ham-fisted or heavy-handed but gently suggested: his immaturity isn’t a character trait, but a life stage. Deep down, Craig is a kind, humble and warm person and still has some room to grow.
But when Gwen and Suzi pin him down for an awkward conversation about being a potential sperm donor, he faces the gap between where he is at now and the grown-up he could be. At first, his impulse is to decline, even though Gwen and Suzi waylay him with a hilariously prepared video slideshow that only reveals further how much of a man-child Craig is.
But Craig is triggered when he accidentally sees Gwen and Suzi’s other prospects, who are all more accomplished and successful. He’s upset at being a backup, not a first choice, and he throws a small but explosive verbal hand grenade. Actors Rachel Sondag and Myesha Gosselin, who play Suzi and Gwen respectively, take the awkwardness and run, revealing fissures in the relationship through a hilarious confrontation. It’s beautifully staged and played out, leading to a shift in the couple and even in Craig, who starts to see possibilities for himself that he’s never considered before.
“Sperm” ends with a bit of a feint, one that offers a final touch of irony that feels true, funny and just a touch melancholy for both Craig and the audience. Perhaps some may find it deflating, but it reveals the film’s real emotional intelligence. Growing up, deep down, is an inside job. Outward circumstances can force us to grow. But as Craig learns, it means we start to think about the future, get excited by its possibilities and start to align our present to aim towards that new horizon.
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A man thinks his landladies need his late rent payment — but they need much more than that. | Sperm
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