I should state up front that there's quite literally no doubt that the offbeat yet surprisingly poignant Manbaby isn't for everyone.
In fact, I would even dare say Manbaby isn't for most.
However, despite its somewhat out of the ordinary narrative I can also assure that some of you, yes I'm looking at you, will absolutely love Manbaby.
Written and directed by Tim Lightell, Manbaby is a slightly sci-fi tinged adult-themed comedy about what it means to grow up. The film centers around Sal (Asa Fager), a stand-up comic on the verge of success thanks to a weird but endearing character he's invented called Manbaby. And yes, it's essentially babyhood 101 as he goes on stage in a diaper and jokes his way through a series of slightly raunchy and slightly adorable jokes.
Audiences love him.
At home, his girlfriend is decidedly more serious. Dana (Sidney Jayne Hunt) is a scientist by day who isn't thrilled with Sal's routine and she's even less thrilled with his desire for a family. Through a twist and turn in circumstances, Sal collaborates with Circe (Anya Maria Johnson) to trick Dana thinking he's been turned into a baby in real life.
Trust me, Manbaby gets weirder as Lightell keeps us guessing just where everything is going and how extreme everything is going to get.
It's difficult to describe Manbaby without giving away far more than I want to give away. It's a movie best experienced with little advance knowledge, though suffice it to say that Lightell has crafted a film that is what I'd call endearingly kinky until it becomes surprisingly touching. Everyone here fully commits to the kind of narrative arc seldom seen even in indie cinema. Somehow, Manbaby never becomes overly sexualized or overly patronizing. There's lots of laughter here, admittedly at times nervous laughter, but it's never at the expense of the characters no matter how unusual they might get.
It's fairly astounding that Fager has only three IMDB credits to his name since 2008. Fager does a freefall into this material in a way that you will either completely love or completely hate. Even if you completely hate Manbaby, it'll leave you staring at the screen in awe.
Sidney Jayne Hunt picked up the Best Actress prize at the Dark Comedy Film Festival for her work here and the only surprise may be that she didn't pick up a few more prizes along the way. Hunt leans heavily into the absurdity of the material and yet also makes Dana an incredibly relatable human being. When Manbaby becomes more emotionally resonant in its final 30 minutes, Hunt's performance really soars and you begin to realize that in addition to having a lot of fun here Lightell is actually trying to say something.
Among the supporting players, I was particularly taken by Anya Maria Johnson's turn as Circe. Johnson's Circe normalizes so many things with her performance here and is simultaneously really really kinky and really really sweet. She's the kind of young woman who would probably scare the crap out of me on the street - but I would also completely adore her. Circe could have so easily been a one-note character and Johnson makes her so much more.
Manbaby is a darkly humorous film that is kinky, queer, and I'd dare say very loving. For those familiar with the ABDL scene (Adult Baby/Diaper Lovers), Manbaby will seem familiar in a comfortable way. Lightell could have easily made fun of it all, but instead he digs deeper to explore the foundation of it all. Just one county north of me, an ABDL shop opened up about a year ago and within a short period of time had been shut down by the city because of the stereotypes.
It was sad, quite honestly.
Because the reality is something closer to what unfolds in Manbaby, though perhaps not quite as absurd. Manbaby explores what it means to grow up, what it means to be loved, gender roles, the desire for human connection, and so much more. Yes, it does it in ways we're not accustomed to seeing on the big screen. But, maybe that's the point. People who don't fit into the definition of "normal" still need to be loved. As a paraplegic/double amputee getting ready for yet another huge physical change due to bladder cancer, I found myself resonating quite a bit with both Sal and Dana and Circe.
But not Michael (Tom Stewart).
As the closing credits were rolling, I'm aware that I'd come face-to-face with some of my own issues and some of my own fears and some of my own desires. Instead of making fun of these very human aspects of life, Lightell seems to be saying that we're all okay as long as we're all trying to give and receive love.
Manbaby isn't a film for everyone. It'll make you squirm. It'll make you laugh. It'll make you think. It'll make you poop.
You won't experience another film like Manbaby this year. So, why not check it out while you can for free on Tubi?
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic