Ensembler “Conception” is a grab bag of interwoven seriocomic narratives involving several Los Angeles couples who, intentionally or not, end up conceiving children. Individual stories being variably underdeveloped and only superfluously connected, this indie feature by helmer Josh Stolberg (better known as the scenarist for “Piranha 3D” and “Good Luck Chuck”) diverts from moment to moment without a cumulative payoff or strong directorial stamp. After regional fest play, exposure is likely to winnow fast toward cable and VOD, with those prospects decent due to tube-familiar cast names.
The painfully unfunny opening scene has David Arquette (who appears again at the close) as a teacher nonsensically lecturing kindergartners about Aristotle; they make him squirm by instead precociously pressing for info on “where babies come from.” Yet the very next scene has an unforced charm as kids are interviewed for their opinions on that mystery (“I think they come from a baby store,” etc.). Pic’s remainder, however, is a roundelay of mostly sitcomish interactions among nine couples, with sex invariably on the agenda.
Only two of them are actually trying to conceive: Connie Britton (“Friday Night Lights”) plays a woman so determined to get pregnant she’s got her sex life planned out with military precision, distinctly turning off her spouse (Jason Mantzoukas, “Parks and Recreation”); Pamela Adlon and Moon Bloodgood are lesbian partners going the turkey-baster route. The only pair here with a child already, played by Jennifer Jostyn and Alan Tudyk, are having a rocky time, not just with the exhausting demands of a newborn but with his eagerness to resume marital relations and her extreme reluctance.
Divorcee Tiffany (Julie Bowen) has a considerable libido, which much younger boy-toy Will (Gregory Smith) is doing his best to keep pace with. Jonathan Silverman and Jennifer Finnigan play a bookish couple who, after 11 years together, have completely fallen out of synch with each other’s sexual cues. By contrast, the characters played by America Olivo (currently in Broadway’s troubled “Spider-Man”) and Tim Griffin have red-hot chemistry in the sack that’s imperiled by divergent attitudes toward personal hygiene.
At the very beginning of a possible relationship are Steve Howey and Leila Charles Leigh, whose blind date goes well until an unfortunate condom malfunction. At the beginning of their sex lives, are teens played by Matt Prokop and Sarah Hyland; a militant vegetarian, she impulsively promises to deflower them both if he’ll swear off meat. It’s quits, however, for Carla (Leah Pipes) and Eric (Aaron Ashmore), in the least comic thread. She wants him out after discovering he’s spent her savings, presumably gambling them away; the truth, improbably, lies elsewhere.
There are a lot of attractive, likable thesps here, but their material is just so-so. Most of the sketch-like storylines just hit the same note over and over, without the kind of bright dialogue or offbeat twists that might make them pop. Instead it’s mostly the constant shifting from one thread to another — accentuated by frequent split-screen effects, the only notable stylistic fillip here — that keeps things entertaining enough.
Mantzoukas and Smith make particularly genial impressions, while the usually excellent Britton is atypically shrill. Others are OK but hidebound by the script’s limitations. Packaging is competent but ordinary, soundtracked by the usual generic indie soft-rock tracks.