Although its title might suggest otherwise, the breakfast food most prominently employed as a metaphor in Scrambled, Leah McKendrick’s directorial debut, is not eggs, but rather the aptly millennial avocado. Overripe avocados, condemned to their state of wrinkled, discolored decay, serve as an unsubtle manifestation of aimless 34-year-old Nelly’s (played with warmth by McKendrick herself) fears about her body aging before her mind is ready.
Nelly is a character you’ve probably seen before. She’s Amy Schumer in Trainwreck (2015) or Kristin Wiig in Bridesmaids (2011): likeable but messy, suffering growing pains well into her 30s and failing to thrive in her career (she sells jewelry on her Etsy site “Nellery”) and personal relationships (she has recently split from her long-term partner). Every passing weekend seems to bring a new wedding or baby shower, but Nelly remains stranded on, what her newly married best friend Sheila (Ego Nwodim) calls, “the island of misfit singles.” She’s constantly being questioned and pressured to get on with her life, not least by her parents (Clancy Brown and Laura Cerón).
Nelly doesn’t even know yet if she wants to have kids, but she’s perturbed when her suspicions that she’s running out of time to decide are confirmed by a doctor. And so, with a loan from her infantile but conveniently rich brother (Andrew Santino), Nelly begins the process of freezing her eggs. But even as she is uncharacteristically motivated to make preparations for future life, nothing can stop her from retreating to a condition of perpetual teenagerhood. In her last hurrah before beginning the treatment, Nelly hooks up with a one-time high school boyfriend, in her childhood bedroom, while wearing her old prom dress. Reality hits home the next morning when she finds out that said old boyfriend is not in fact divorced, as she had believed.
With newfound clarity, Nelly determines that it’s time for her to change — to become someone who “sees things through.” In well-trod romantic comedy style, she begins revisiting past relationships in search of something that might stick. She withstands several no-hopers (including a very funny/scary “nice guy” played by Brett Dier), only to find that even her elusive ex-situationship partner — nicknamed “Peter Pan” for his propensity to avoid relationships — is now engaged. These interactions are sharply written by McKendrick, and the fact that none of them develop beyond a single scene is perhaps the film’s smartest choice.
While Scrambled is her first film as director, McKendrick previously wrote and co-starred in M.F.A. (Natalia Leite, 2017). A revenge fantasy which is never half as interesting as Jennifer’s Body (Karyn Kusama, 2009), a film it fleetingly recalls, M.F.A at least does attempt something worthwhile in examining how justice systems so often fail victims of sexual assault. In a similar way, Scrambled endeavors to open a dialogue around fertility journeys, motherhood, and loneliness. It’s clearly a very personal film for McKendrick, drawing from her own experience with freezing her eggs. There’s a real generosity in this, but at times, the approach taken feels a little flawed.
When Nelly makes some insensitive comments at a group meeting she is attending in support of Sheila, who has recently suffered a miscarriage, the film treats her immaturity as charming. She is graciously invited to share how she is managing with her fertility treatment, her experience privileged over Sheila’s, whose feelings around losing her pregnancy are never explored. It’s a disappointing misstep and reflective of a film that, while a strong calling card for its director-star and often sharp in sketching its larger narrative framework, never quite lives up to the potential of its premise.
DIRECTOR: Leah McKendrick; CAST: Leah McKendrick, Ego Nwodim, Andrew Santino, Adam Rodriguez; DISTRIBUTOR: Lionsgate; IN THEATERS: February 2; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 37 min.