Joshua Leonard’s dramedy Fully Realized Humans tackles relatively heavy subjects with a light but deft touch. The feature’s laid-back, lo-fi, semi-improvised approach and brevity ensure that it never lags. Although never quite reaching revelatory status, Leonard, a keen observer of the human condition, pieces together scenes that are bound to strike a resonant chord – especially with expecting couples.
Jackie (Jess Weixler) and Elliot (Joshua Leonard) are such a couple: mid-to-late 30’s, pregnant, going through relationship issues, terrified. During the baby shower, all their friends seem to talk about is how their lives are about to be over, the unbearable pain of giving birth, and even crib death. “You don’t get to be yourselves anymore” is the general sentiment. After somewhat misinterpreting their doula’s advice, Jackie and Elliot embark on a spiritual quest, a self-imposed “intense transformation.”
Basically, the goal is to become the titular “fully realized humans” within the last four weeks of the pregnancy. After discussing a slew of increasingly wild ideas, Jackie picks… let’s just say it involves a dildo and some deep, um, dredging up of painful memories for Elliot. He consequently needs to punch someone in the face, as well as be punched. They shoplift, spray paint, visit strip clubs. The finale revolves around an intense confrontation with their parents.
“…misinterpreting their doula’s advice, Jackie and Elliot embark on a spiritual quest…”
Leonard conveys true-to-life moments with the clarity of someone who has lived through them all. An argument over hummus evolves then dissipates. At one point, Jackie and Elliot joke about third-term abortion. Both the dildo purchasing and the following act are side-splitting, as is the “punch me in the face” confrontation.
It’s no surprise that Fully Realized Humans brings to mind the Duplass brothers: Leonard has worked with them occasionally, most notably on the searing (and wildly underrated) HBO show Togetherness. He shares their warmth of tone, empathy for characters, and attention to the smallest of details. His on-the-surface-breezy film studies how couples, unlike their children, “sign up for each other’s madness” and how pregnancy makes us come face to face with our deepest inhibitions. It questions the validity of some of our insecurities and, perhaps most compellingly, traces the roots of said inhibitions to our parents and even justifies them in a way. Not bad for a flick that’s barely over an hour long.
It’s not all gravy: moments both stilted or redundant scream out for a second draft or another take. In addition, Leonard sometimes keeps the camera running for just a fraction of a second too long, blemishing what would have otherwise been a perfect moment, be it comedic or dramatic. That being said, despite its flaws, Fully Realized Humans indeed happens to be more fully realized than the majority of current entertainment.
"…more fully realized than the majority of current entertainment."