I must be a sick puppy. Because I kept waiting for Matt Ott & Sonja O’Hara’s “Ovum” to turn into some Cronenbergian nightmare. It didn’t even have to be David. I would have settled for Brandon Cronenberg (director of 2012’s “Antiviral”). Instead it remained a sharp satire of the New York world of film, art, and society. Taking equal aim at method acting, modeling, and pretentious indie directors.
Ott makes his feature directional debut with a whip smart script by O’Hara who stars as Calpurnia Dylan, a classically trained young New York actress. Feeling it is fate as she sees a casting notice for a play about an egg donor the same day she spots an ad for an upscale “designer” egg donation clinic. She decides to sink her teeth into the ultimate acting job and pretend she is the type of genetic draft pick upper echelon women in New York City would choose. This means cleverly hiding her drinking, drug use, and family history of mental illness. She is chosen by veteran actress Isabella West (Laura Poe) who icily picks her apart to make sure the agency was thorough enough for her taste. In the waiting room of the clinic, she is drawn to the beautiful and acerbic Ellen (Katie Morrison) who is about to donate for the fourth time.
I should explain why I kept thinking “Ovum” was going to spiral into some dark territory. First, the relationship between Calpurnia & Ellen was reminiscent of the one in Aronofsky’s “Black Swan”, where a woman on questionable mental footing falls into a liaison with a more sexually free and desirable partner who may be sabotaging her. The film also has a recurring theme of placing Calpurina amongst groups. In the middle of circles, chanting and acting out bizarre exercises. Between her acting classes and support groups for egg donors the film is afforded plenty of opportunities. It started to felt so much like “Fight Club” that I began wondering if Calpurnia’s schizophrenia was starting to manifest itself by creating the splintered persona of Ellen.
The cinematography by Dan McBride is tremendous, especially when focused on the dynamic between Calpurnia & Ellen. He takes advantage of the natural light that fills city apartments and rehearsal studios. Their warmth and energy together contrasting the winter outside. The film goes to great lengths to detail the intense protocol of daily hormone injections. Sticking Calpurnia in bathrooms and hiding the evidence from her boyfriend. And in one of the film’s best moments, Calpurnia allows Ellen to inject her.
The “play” subplot is strange because it is entirely incidental as the impetus for the actions Calpurnia takes. She could just as easily need the money to fund some artistic passion project. The play never pays off in the third act but the film insists on carrying it along anyway. Furthering the Russian nesting doll nature of the “Ovum” is the fact that writer/star O’Hara actually did become an egg donor and used the funds gained to bankroll the film.
“Ovum” is a feast for anyone who has ever tried to navigate the acting world, but especially in New York City. Nobody is left unscathed. From those struggling to Broadway royalty and all the sycophants and social climbers in between.