By KIMBERLY GRANT
Special to South Florida Times
At the box office where the multiplexes are littered with sequels and reboots, it’s a wonder we even go to the movies anymore. Case-in-point, When the Bough Breaks, which is basically the black version of The Hand that Rocks the Cradle and Fatal Attraction. Question is, should the audience support it because of the melanin in the skin of the actors or because it’s actually good?
In When the Bough Breaks, John and Laura Taylor (played by Morris Chestnut and Regina Hall, respectively) are a wealthy couple desperate to have a baby and, after failed attempts, are on their last viable embryo.
They just need the right person to agree to have their baby. Enter Anna Walsh (Jaz Sinclair) who has an obvious agenda of her own. Things really go awry when Anna falls in love with John and he hides it from his wife. Director Jon Cassar must have been given explicit instructions to make sure there are enough suspenseful frights in this film. In it, someone unexpected is murdered, a beloved pet is in danger, and the villain keeps coming back for one last scare. But, the frights and the twists are not enough to make this story interesting.
In the meantime, screenwriter Jack Olsen’s story feels half-finished. What the audience essentially has here is a campy movie about a nutcase who is allowed to carry someone else’s baby. Apparently the surrogate agency’s psych exam is not as accurate as they think. If that’s not enough, the trailers for this film basically gave away the plot. So, the spoilers below aren’t really spoilers.
In the hands of another writer, maybe the story could have been more fleshed out. There’s a touch on the law about surrogates and keeping babies. That probably should have been explored more. The dynamic of John and Laura’s relationship is too cookie-cutter for a movie that’s supposed to be edgy like this. Those edges are way too smooth.
Laura is a little too docile and understanding for a wife with a husband that is that great. John is the total package. He’s good looking, successful, and loves his wife as if she is the only woman in his world. This is a fictionalized character, so it’s easy to believe that this man can be steadfastly faithful to his wife. But, as the central couple, the only time they actually get interesting is when Anna is making advances toward John. Otherwise, they’re too perfect and not representational of any one couple.
Likewise, the relationship between Anna and her fiancé Mike (Theo Rossi) is confusing. Rossi’s portrayal of Mike is so ambiguous that we, the audience, never get to know the character. Sure, Mike is established as the villain early on. But Mike and Anna have some kind of weird relationship where you can’t tell which one of them is the crazier of the two. And, you find yourself rooting for the “villain.”
Is Anna afraid of Mike or should he be watching his back? Is she a part of the scheme or the mastermind? And, does anyone else see that Anna has crazy eyes and looks like she could pass for a black Harley Quinn? These two flip flop between two extremes in their characters that the film starts to make no sense, making it a challenge to even sit in the movie theater until the end.
Taking a hard look at this film, Olsen as writer can’t take all the blame for the confusion. Cassar is responsible to make sure all the moving parts work together to make a good finished product.
I wanted to like this movie because I really like Regina Hall and Morris Chestnut, who don’t really have the kind of chemistry they should have on camera. But, the silly twists, clunky dialog, eye-roll-inducing third act, and inconclusive ending make this film half-finished. For some reason, I feel like the film editor’s (Scott Powell) flash drive contains what When the Bough Breaks should have been. Alas, we’ll never know.