On Friday nights, IndieWire After Dark takes a feature-length beat to honor fringe cinema in the streaming age.
First, the spoiler-free pitch for one editor’s midnight movie pick — something weird and wonderful from any age of film that deserves our memorializing.
Then, the spoiler-filled aftermath as experienced by the unwitting editor attacked by this week’s recommendation.
The Pitch: Pregnancy Really Suits Arnold Schwarzenegger
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a movie star in possession of a comically large body, must be in want of a comically small scene partner. Every muscular action star eventually reaches a point when it’s time to pivot to comedy — and nothing smoothes that transition quite like a pint-sized foil who isn’t afraid to be sassy.
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito struck box office gold in 1988 with “Twins,” a blockbuster comedy that dared audiences to imagine the physically mismatched actors as long lost brothers. The moviegoing public ate up the unlikely pairing, and it wasn’t long before director Ivan Reitman began looking for another comedy project that allowed him to reunite with his stars.
Now, I was not a studio executive in 1994, but if I was in the position of overseeing the “Twins” follow-up, I like to think I would have said something along the lines of “Let’s make ‘Twins 2.’” Or perhaps “Let’s come up with another original idea that exploits the size difference between them.” Under no circumstances would I have said, “Let’s make a movie about Arnold Schwarzenegger getting pregnant with a stolen fetus. A movie that explicitly states that he carries the baby in his colon and would give birth through his ass if nature were allowed to take its course. And we’ll spin it as a heartwarming comedy about the joys of childbirth.”
But as a midnight movie enthusiast in 2023, I’m grateful that someone was thinking that way.
When you stumble onto a piece of 24-carat comedy gold like “Arnold Schwarzenegger with a baby bump,” you just have to assume the audience will be laughing too hard to notice plot holes. But this film’s Cronenberg-esque premise calls for a closer examination. “Junior” begins with Dr. Alex Hesse (Schwarzenegger) and Dr. Larry Arbogast (DeVito) being informed that a fertility drug they’ve developed for women has been rejected by the FDA. They’re convinced that the regulatory agency just needs to see it in action, so Hesse decides to go rogue and use it to get himself pregnant. Think of it as the fertility equivalent of Tom Cruise stealing that plane in “Top Gun: Maverick.”
I just need to pause here and dwell on the insanity of all of this. A screenwriter could have easily said that these fictional scientists were working on a miracle drug that allows cisgender men to get pregnant, and comedy would ensue. But no, this drug was simply designed to help infertile women conceive. And for some inexplicable reason, they decide that using it to plant a baby in the digestive system of a man without a womb is going to be the thing that convinces an already-skeptical government that it’s safe for public consumption.
“Junior” offers a smorgasbord of cinematic oddities that culminates in what has to be the strangest sex sequence of Arnold’s career. The portrayal of Schwarzenegger’s pregnancy alternates between misguided attempts at sentimentality and reminders that women are still constantly horny for the Austrian Oak. At the same time, it offers a weirdly (and almost certainly unintentional) progressive depiction of male pregnancy. Nobody in the film really questions the idea that a man could give birth to a child and find fulfillment in the whole process. I’m not saying that excuses any of the film’s other weirdness, but it makes an already-unclassifiable movie even harder to wrap one’s mortal brain around.
As I learn more about myself with age, I’ve come to terms with the unavoidable fact that watching Schwarzenegger incoherently stumble through a biologically impossible pregnancy is something I’m unwilling to live without. And unless “FUBAR” Season 2 goes in a wildly different direction, “Junior” is the only place this addict can go to get his fix.
The Aftermath: Congratulations! It’s a Delight!
Before Jason Reitman began production on the Oscar-winning “Juno,” I like to think he phoned up his dear old dad to at least ask about the Oscar-nominated “Junior.” Yes, you read that right. The Schwarzenegger-DeVito gynecological comedy (gyencol-omedy?) got an Oscar nod for Best Original Song thanks to Patty Smyth’s “Look What Love Has Done”: a soulful ballad with ambiguous but aching lyrics that can be interpreted as a reflection on any pregnancy — carried in or out of ass.
“Look at what love has done to me / I’m not who I used to be / Everything is changing / and I’ll never be the same,” Smyth croons. (She was asked to cut the refrain “Now, get this baby out of my peritoneal cavity before my ass splits open like an overripe Austrian melon” for time… allegedly.)
Like “Rosemary’s Baby” before it and his son’s “Juno” after it, Ivan Reitman’s “Junior” builds its pregnant hero’s arc around an impending due date and the mounting anticipation of motherhood. For most pregnancy movies, this structure allows ample time for audiences to grapple with the big, anxious questions of procreation (“When are you ready to be a mom?” “Who will you be after you’re a mom?” “What separates a bad mom from a good mom?”), while the filmmakers plod through the necessary dramatic steps of evolving their overwhelmed, increasingly pregnant protagonists.
In pregnancy comedies, this sincere center usually occurs between scenes of actors awkwardly stumbling around hospitals, and making jokes about ice cream, pickles, and piss. But for Reitman, Dr. Alex Hesse’s miraculous, Expectane-facilitated gestation allowed for an opportunity more delicious than logical storytelling or relatable humor for [squints at notepad] “human women.” No, instead — presented with permission from Universal Pictures to deliver 1 hour and 49 minutes of pregnant Arnold Schwarzenegger — Reitman luxuriates in delivering 1 hour and 49 minutes of pregnant Arnold Schwarzenegger. No more, no less. Cohesion and character be damned.
Rosy, round, and radiant, the former California governor is indeed glowing in his warmly bewildering performance as a scientist sold on motherhood from the jump. Alex is shockingly comfortable with what’s initially a plan to allow a stranger’s fertilized egg to “reabsorb” (“re-absorb”??) into his abdomen as a means of hiding evidence from the FDA, and his persistent pleas (“I want mai baybee!”) are, in two words, fucking adorable. Given the intensity of the film’s inside-out reproductive logic, I was moderately disappointed when Alex’s caesarean didn’t result in a campier birthing sequence. And in some ways, I would’ve liked to see Emma Thompson’s Dr. Diana Reddin — a woman baldly robbed of her own chance at pregnancy — be a little less of a uterine doormat. But I’m not sure such scenes would fit with what’s ultimately kind of a wholesome disaster of well-meaning gender politics.
With the endlessly patient Thompson zipping through half-funny one-liners (“That is so…male!” “Call me old-fashioned, but I’ll be damned if I’m having a child with a man I’ve never even slept with…”) and Schwarzenegger legit bellowing “MY BODY, MY CHOICE” (hell yeah, brother!), “Junior” swings for some “Tootsie”-level satire in the Roe v. Wade era that it just can’t hit. That, combined with our evolving understanding of transgender and nonbinary identities, I was ultimately quite grateful screenwriters Kevin Wade and Chris Conrad’s decades-aged work didn’t make any more or any meaner missteps.
Pass out the cigars and butt plugs. Overall, I delighted in finally seeing the Schwarzenegger ass-birth movie, and I’d readily recommend it to anyone looking to be quietly changed by a midnight movie: “Look at what love has done to me, I’m not who I used to be…” —AF
Those brave enough to join in on the fun can rent “Junior” on Prime Video, Apple TV, YouTube, and Google Play.