Motion-Picture: When the Bough rocks too hard


When the Bough Breaks is certainly a lot of things, but the gentle lullaby from which the movie’s title comes is not one of them. Jon Cassar’s drama premiered last week and scored the second place slot at the box office, earning $14.2 million on its $10 million budget in one weekend. It’s no masterpiece; the script bounces all over the place and removes any logic from the plot for the sake of drama.

Stars Morris Chestnut and Regina Hall play a young, successful couple, a law enforcer (Chestnut’s John Taylor) and a chef (Hall’s Laura). They live in a gorgeous mansion with a beloved “ancient” cat, but cannot conceive a child after trying for years. They hire a young, impishly shy woman named Anna to be the surrogate mother, played by hidden gem Jaz Sinclair. Anna’s boyfriend Mike (played to cartoon villain effect by Sons of Anarchy’s Theo Rossi) is not okay with the situation, and gradually becomes more unhinged (or Rossi’s version of unhinged, which is to speak only in a faux-growl). Anna moves into the Taylors’ mansion for her own safety from him. However, the in-your-face script quickly makes it clear that Anna is not the innocent person she is made out to be, and may have a different plan for the Taylors in store.

For the role she was given, Sinclair switches between sugary cherub and venomous viper on command. Only 22, this is the young actress’s first leading role, previously playing backup in 2015’s Paper Towns. The script, penned by Jack Olsen in his first major writing credit, is about as inconsistent as Sinclair’s role. In one scene she’s innocent as a baby; in the next, she’s full out psychotic. Sinclair balances her role with a nuance not present in the script, making her character truly unpredictable even when some scenes follow paint-by-the-number clichés.

Still, there’s some genuinely good writing here. The script does an excellent job at foreshadowing important moments later on (a passing comment to Chestnut’s character later becomes an important plot point, for example), and conducts a fairly successful red herring that lasts until the off-the-walls final act. But then, other plot points meant to serve as surprises are so blatantly obvious, the bigger surprise is the film didn’t expect the audience to see them coming.

By the second act, the plot is so dramatic that down comes baby, cradle and all. It all starts when Anna wears Laura’s prized dress to a fundraiser the couple throws in their backyard, making Laura angry. Anna begins making romantic advances toward John, including sending private videos to his work email (which, honestly, he should have known was going to be monitored by his bosses). John and Laura, written about as memorably as their first names, resolve to go to any lengths to ensure they have their baby, well beyond what a reasonable couple like themselves would realistically do. For its absurdity, Chestnut and Hall do anchor the plot in some level of realism, making proceedings more believable.

Still, for all its outrageousness, the movie goes all out to entertain. The score pumps and calms when it needs to, and I found myself waiting in anticipation to see just how far Sinclair’s character was going to go to get what she wanted (spoiler alert: very, very far). It’s entertainment that works as soon as you sit down and turn your brain off, thanks in large part to Sinclair. When putting more than a basic level of thought into it, though, let’s just say the bough may break.