Sonja Bennett as Ruth, with James Caan, who plays her father in the film. Image via Mongrel Media.
Ruth is a perpetually hungover, 35-year-old chain-smoking grocery clerk who lives in her dad's basement. After she accidentally hits a kid in the face with a baseball bat at a baby shower, her high school besties (who all have children and grownup lives) decide Ruth doesn't really fit the clique anymore. So they kick her out. And when she gets home, Ruth's little sister, the favourite child, announces that she's trying to conceive, much to their ailing dad's delight.
Ruth's life sucks. But things start looking up when she's mistaken for a pregnant woman, after puking in a baby store. (Morning sickness, am I right? So I hear.) When her ex-best friends find out she's “pregnant” and come running back to re-friend her, she let's them rub her belly. She tries to fess up early on, but people enjoy her company so much more as a mommy-to-be. Before she knows it, everyone in her life thinks she's expecting twins, and Ruth has to come up with increasingly creative ways to keep up the ruse.
Preggoland is the first feature written by Sonja Bennett, who also stars as the film's lovable, faux-preggers screw-up. I caught up with Bennett during the Toronto International Film Festival, a day after Preggoland premiered, to talk about the “pregnancy pedestal,” writing regimens and what it's like to make Canadian movies that Canadians will actually watch.
VICE: What inspired you to write a film about a woman who fakes her pregnancy?
Sonja Bennett: There are sort of two reasons. One: I have this coffee shop that I like to go to that's across the street from my house. It's one of those situations where if you don't jaywalk, you kind of have to walk three blocks to get there. So I always jaywalk. Vancouver drivers they don't really like it when you jaywalk. Even if you're not slowing down traffic, they give you dirty looks. You're not following the rules and they honk at you. So one day, I went to step off the curb to cross the street, and this car screeched to a halt. All the cars in the line started screeching and it was like the parting of the Red Sea. I thought, this is bizarre. And I looked down and I realized that I had just started to show my pregnancy. It was such a surreal experience, a very physical manifestation of this special treatment that we give pregnant women. It made me very interested in this pregnancy pedestal. So I explored that until I eventually got to the film.
Where the concepts joined, is that I find it oddly hard to make friends with other women as an adult. It's always kind of awkward. But when I got pregnant it was just shocking to me how easy it was. I was sitting on the bus next to a woman and we were both pregnant and we kind of live close to each other. She just grabbed my phone and put her info in.
You're just instantaneously welcomed into a giant clique and you don't need to have anything in common with anybody. People will just readily serve up stories about their bodily fluids, and all you have to have in common is that you're mothers. At first, it was like this gift. But then there's the flip side of it, which is that it's artificial.
The film really got at how society tells women that they're not complete, or they're not successful if they're not a mother. Women are still pushed toward motherhood.
Absolutely. I worked with many story editors and did many passes on the script and of course some people wanted a very Hollywood ending where it cuts to Ruth with a baby. It was very important to me that that was not the message of this film. A woman does not need to be a mother to be complete, and becoming a mother—and I am one so I feel like I can say this—does not make me a better person, a fuller person. I even call bullshit—and many of my female friends disagree with me, so this is just a personal opinion—having a baby does not make me deeper.
This was your first feature. How was the writing experience? Did you have to lock yourself in a room and not talk to anyone?
I had written a little bit before, but this was by far my first thing that was produced. I started writing this film when I was very far along in my pregnancy, so I really did all of this with kids. I'd set my alarm for 4:40 AM, because the Starbucks opens at five, and I'd write from five to 7:30 and be home for when my son woke up. I won't lie to you, it sucked. It sucked. But in some ways I think it was helpful because it was a very short time frame. I remember writing before I had kids, when I was an out-of-work actor, and being like, 'Today, I'm going to write!'
Even now, when I'm writing quite a lot, I can't write more than four hours a day. It's really hard. Now I say, 'OK, I've got two hours. Let's see what I can do in two hours.' And with that kind of structure and discipline, I've found that you can achieve a hell of a lot. Eighty minutes, to me, is the golden amount. I need 80 minutes, that's it.
I'm the same way. If I have a whole day to write a story it's not getting done at all. If I have an hour…
It's getting done. And it's probably going to be awesome.
What was it like working with Jacob [Tierney, the director of the film]? Was it hard for you to hand over your project to someone else?
You know what, it was a relief. It felt really good to have someone else in charge and I was also at max capacity. I was still writing on the fly, things were changing, and I'm in every single scene of this movie. I was so glad. I respect Jacob so much and we have the same sense of humour, and the same sensibilities. I was never worried. I just really handed over the reins and I never gave it a second thought.
It was actually a really great thing because the fresh energy and the fresh perspective, no question, made the film better. I mean, it's deeper and fuller because of him and I think it's actually easier for him to see a broader picture because I was really in it. I can't say enough good things about Jacob.
How did he get attached to the film?
We worked together as actors on a pilot that didn't get picked up about seven years ago.
Which was that?
It was called Job. I thought it was really good. But it didn't get picked up. We hadn't kept in touch or anything, but The Trotsky [Tierney's 2009 film starring Jay Baruchel] came to mind as an inspiration. I really liked the way that it balanced an anti-establishment vibe with a lot of heart. I wanted that for this film. So I reached out and he read the script and was just on board right away. He was like, 'I get it, I love it, I'm on the same page, I'm in.'
Lots of Canadian films aren't ever seen by Canadian audiences. What's it like for you to make a film and have it seen in Canada?
I don't want to be cheesy, but yesterday was a dream come true for me. It was just beyond…It was just magic. I watched it and I actually hadn't even seen it with the score, or the colour correction or anything. I really stayed out of the editing process because I didn't feel like I really had anything to add to it. So I just stayed out and decided to be surprised.
I feel so lucky and so blessed and it feels like people are actually going to see this movie. That was so important to me. I did write this with the business part of my brain activated because I've seen so many of my peers, who are oozing with talent, make things that just can't capture a mainstream audience and aren't commercial enough. I knew that even though I wanted to make something from my heart, I wanted it to be seen.