In the movies as in real life, genuine chemistry can’t be faked — two people either have it or they don’t. Joshua Leonard and Jess Weixler fall into the former category, sharing a rapport that’s so natural and easygoing that it carries their winning “Fully Realized Humans” (a 2020 Tribeca Film Festival selection) through its occasional bumpy patches. As a married couple grappling with pre-parental fears as well as familial hang-ups, the pair are consistently amusing and affecting. So too, as a result, is their latest collaboration (following 2011’s “The Lie”), which with the right push may make inroads with indie audiences when it debuts on VOD on July 30.
With the birth of their first child only one month away, Jackie (Weixler) and Elliot (Leonard) find that Lamaze classes with their doula (Erica Chidi Cohen) aren’t quelling their growing anxieties — which are then exacerbated by a baby shower at which their friends talk about the nightmare of breastfeeding, the threat of sudden infant death syndrome and the impending loss of independence and identity to which they can look forward. It’s enough to drive a mother- and father-to-be to react extremely, and that’s precisely what happens with Jackie and Elliot. First fighting about Elliot’s purchase of unnecessary hummus, and then fretting about Jackie’s dad (Michael Chieffo) and his drug addiction and requests for money, the two decide to cope with their harried circumstances by shaking up their lives, throwing caution to the wind and changing themselves through bold and unconventional behavior.
That may sound like a contrived setup for corny personal growth and life lessons, but as with an early bit of inappropriate banter about abortion, Elliot and Jackie feel like an actual couple, bonded by not only the strain of their present and their pasts but their sense of humor and underlying understanding of — and compassion for — each other and themselves. Written by Weixler (who’s really eight months pregnant here) and Leonard (who also directs), “Fully Realized Humans” solidifies its central dynamic through alternately jokey and heartfelt dialogue that rings true, and via its leads’ sure-footed performances as committed partners grappling with a crazed stew of issues involving control, doubt and masculinity.
The last of those informs the first outrageous twist in “Fully Realized Humans,” as Jackie convinces Elliot to engage in some bedroom “pegging,” thus instigating a thoroughly awkward trip to a sex shop and an even more uncomfortable tryst. From there, “Fight Club”-style violence, vandalism, shoplifting and lap dances become vehicles for Jackie and Elliot’s actualization, and Leonard dramatizes his action with a looseness (marked by gently bobbing handheld cinematography) that contributes to the proceedings’ breezy energy. The spirit here is one of good-natured anarchic rebellion against stereotypical preconceptions and adolescent programming, and consequently, it’s fitting that a couple of punk rock songs make their way into Luke Fabia and Peter Raeburn’s jaunty score.
At 76 minutes, “Fully Realized Humans” benefits from not taking itself too seriously or overstaying its welcome. Yet the trade-off is that Jackie and Elliot’s transformation is a bit abrupt, with the film relying on a few easy-bake montages to move things along. A late scene in which the duo stray from a hiking path and get lost in the dark also proves a bit of an on-the-nose metaphor, no matter that this significant moment is played for tense laughs. Mostly, though, Weixler and Leonard dig into first-time-parent neurosis with just the right balance of clownish comedy and cathartic drama, culminating with a sit-down with their parents that suggests that too much introspection is potentially a bad thing — and also, that the key to happiness may be accepting the imperfections of all moms and dads.