Scrambled may not break new ground in the indie rom-com genre, but it shows that Leah McKendrick is a confident voice behind and in front of the camera.
Any indie romantic comedy that opens with its protagonist taking molly as a bridesmaid at a wedding is almost always a recipe for disaster. Something as outlandish as this is often used as a shortcut for some wacky hijinks, regardless of how realistic the circumstances may be. Thankfully, Leah McKendrick’s directorial debut Scrambled makes it part of the film’s thesis statement of the troubles of womanhood in all its facets, and a funny and endearing opening scene to boot.
It also helps that McKendrick, who also wrote the screenplay and stars as Nellie, surrounds herself with capable comedic presences. Sheila (SNL’s Ego Nwodim) is the bride that cajoles Nellie to take the molly, and Monroe (June Diane Raphael) is an old friend who had a child late in life. Both cause Nellie to put her current lot in life into perspective, and that’s before a regretful one-night stand and a horrible family dinner with her parents and brother. Her father (Clancy Brown) takes every opportunity to remind her of her recent breakup, and relentlessly inquires about when he can expect any grandchildren. She soon gets the idea that time is running out and her options for motherhood are quickly diminishing – and her Etsy jewelry business hasn’t exactly taken off yet – so she decides to raise the money to freeze her eggs.
Between its comedic instincts, Scrambled touches on the double and triple standards that women face as they stare down the societal and familial pressures to become mothers. Whether it’s the near impossible financial cost of motherhood in all its forms, the nightmarish modern dating scene, or the pressures parents put on women, Scrambled leaves no stone unturned. It’s not the most nuanced material ever, but the film is often refreshing in its honesty, and it feels like it comes from a place of sincerity. McKendrick gives a fearless performance as Nellie, never afraid to lean into her insecurities and her unlikeable qualities. I was similarly impressed with Nwodim, who displays an impressive amount of dramatic range in addition to her comedic deliveries. She steals every scene she’s in.
She also has effortless chemistry with virtually all of her scene partners, when the second act morphs into a series of dates, as Nellie tries to find a viable partner. Meanwhile, the third act becomes a series of “rah-rah, feminism” monologues from Nellie as she pushes back against everyone that doubted her. They’re well written, and McKendrick nails the emotions, but I wish the film had tried to explore other avenues in the home stretch (or trimmed a few minutes off the 100 minute runtime).
In spite of these criticisms, you could do a lot worse when the quality first-quarter theatrical offerings are few and far between. I can imagine Scrambled resonating profoundly especially with people like Nellie – aching for a future that’s just out of their grasp – whether it be the perpetually single or those experiencing the difficulties of parenthood. It’s a confident debut of a film that shows McKendrick has the potential to be a unique presence in front of and behind the camera.
Scrambled will be released in theaters in New York, Los Angeles and over 750 cities nationwide on February 2, 2024. Find the full list of cities on Fandango’s site.