Theoretically, Jon Cassar’s When the Bough Breaks should work as a sleazy thriller. The 2016 picture features a screenplay by Jack Olsen and stars a pile of gorgeous people like Morris Chestnut, Regina Hall and Jaz Sinclair. And there’s sex. In a way.
Unfortunately, the elements come together with all the bulk of a Lifetime movie and merely drift through their paces without the good humour to fuel a strong measure of blundering stupidity. And it is silly, but somehow never quite silly enough.
Chestnut stars as John Taylor and Hall stars as his wife Laura. She’s a successful chef and he’s a successful lawyer and they live in a really nice house. Laura has been struggling to get pregnant and the couple decides to try a surrogate, which is where Sinclair’s Anna comes in. She agrees to carry the couple’s baby.
Anna has a boyfriend named Mike, but all is not well. He beats her and she ultimately moves in with John and Laura. She develops an obsession on John, which leads to problems at work and at home. As Anna kicks up the crazy, John and Laura do all they can to maintain their stability.
Chestnut’s character is a good man to a ridiculous degree. He tells his wife everything, like when Mike creeps him out by saying he glares at housewives through the windows. He even endures Anna’s attempted liaisons with cheerful avoidance, at least for the most part.
Hall is initially present, but her character drifts to the periphery when Sinclair becomes more feasible. That this is done by a swapping of red dresses is kind of hilarious, which is made all the more unfortunate by the fact that Hall is the more interesting, more emotionally complex character – to a point.
That’s not to say that Olsen’s screenplay doesn’t try to stack the rafters for Anna, as there are abundant twists and turns. She is carrying a baby for the Taylor couple and Mike wants to turn the screws for more cash, which fleetingly suggests a scenario in which those goddamn poors are trying to take advantage of job-creating rich people once more.
Somehow, this scenario gets shot to hell and rendered immaterial by a mid-game change. It’s almost like When the Bough Breaks gives up on one idea and trades it for another when Anna decides she wants in on John’s chestnuts.
Sinclair is game to bump up the flirting to a PG-13 level, which generally involves some neat lingerie, a sharpie and a little bit of cover-up. But there’s no real sense of eroticism and the sex appeal fails to register, which is a shame because that’s all this confused fable really has to lean on.
Objections could be made regarding the movie’s treatment of pregnancy or surrogacy or women or men or lawyers or chefs or downspouts or kittens. Moral outrage could be tendered toward the way the film suggests that poor people are desperate and rude or toward the insinuation that surrogates are psychopaths waiting to happen.
But When the Bough Breaks isn’t really saying any of that, even if it’s tempting to hang one’s hat on such caustic corollaries. In fact, When the Bough Breaks isn’t saying anything at all. And even then, this sexless, humourless, suspenseless, and pointless thriller can’t abide by the courage of its imaginary convictions. Talk about twisted.