It seems like only yesterday that we were all ragging on the millennial cohort for youthful foibles like excess avocado consumption and crushing student debt accrual. But time, with its trademark humorlessness, has marched on and suddenly, the self-same kids who coined “adulting” to hashtag their Insta stories about that time they put up a shelf, are discovering how much less fun it is to be adult-ed — ready or not.
In the enjoyably salty-till-it-gets-too-sweet “Scrambled,” Nellie (Leah McKendrick, also writer and debut director) is definitely in the “not” category, but that doesn’t matter to her ovaries. At 34, they’re starting to slow down their egg production, forcing hard-partying, sexually adventurous Nellie, whose journey to date has been an exercise in life-decision-making avoidance, to consider her options. When exactly should you let go of the child inside you, in order to embrace the possibility of having a child inside you?
This is fertile territory into which McKendrick implants a zingy, quippy, R-rated comedy, inseminated by a TMI sense of humor which is as unapologetic about Nellie’s horny-but-directionless lifestyle as the mid-aughts comedies of Judd Apatow were about her manchild equivalents. But here, the sheer injustice that is men having a much longer fertility window than women gives Nellie’s wising-up a sharper, more urgent edge.
This sets “Scrambled,” in its best moments, apart from spiritual predecessors like “Bridesmaids” and “Trainwreck,” which also mined the comic potential of women with a 20-something mindset hurtling into their mid-30s, but didn’t get quite so biological about it. In McKendrick’s screenplay, inspired by her own experiences, the antagonist is not so much society, with its coupling-up expectations, as the female reproductive system itself, which knows how to kill a party vibe by standing at the edge of the dance floor disapprovingly tapping its watch.
Every generation has a tendency to approach each life-stage crisis as though they were the first to ever experience it. But in Nellie’s case, there really is a difference: It’s only relatively recently that fertility clinics have offered accessible, if hardly inexpensive, egg-freezing services that allow the unready woman to kick the motherhood decision down the road a bit. After a needling exchange with her gruff father (Clancy Brown) and an encounter with an old friend (June Diane Raphael, essentially reprising her blunt-spoken OB-GYN role from “New Girl”), Nellie, a newly single, Etsy jewelry seller who’s been further impoverished by the endless round of wedding gifts, baby presents and bridesmaids’ dresses she has had to buy, borrows some money from her smug financier brother (Andrew Santino, “Dave”) and signs up. Belly injections, hormonal shifts and a fair bit of soul-searching ensue.
Also: soulmate searching. In parallel, Nellie decides to reconnect with a series of former hookups, to see if among them there is a potential longterm partner that she hadn’t noticed at the time. The dates, titled “The Prom King” “The Nice Guy,” “The Peter Pan” etc., are neatly scathing little cringe-comedy sketches that bring out the best in McKendrick’s acidic observational skills. But their episodic nature also feels like it would be better suited to a TV format.
That impression is enhanced by Julia Swain’s glossy, close-up camerawork, McKendrick’s own gamely down-to-earth performance and a deep bench of supporting characters who are written and cast well enough to warrant their own expanded storylines. Ego Nwodim as Nellie’s best friend Sheila is a case in point: Her apparent bafflement at her own pregnant-and-married status (we first meet Nellie while Sheila is begging her for drugs at her own wedding) is a funny note to play that deserves more than her truncated screen time.
Despite the low-budget, autobiographical indie credentials, “Scrambled” also functions as a Hollywood calling card, and given that McKendrick is slated to script a couple of high-profile IP projects in “Grease” prequel “Summer Lovin’” and the legacy sequel in the “I Know What You Did Last Summer” franchise, it works like a charm in that regard. But perhaps that’s also the reason that, after finding fresh, enjoyably dirty-minded material in clichéd situations in the early going, McKendrick’s film eventually succumbs to formula, contriving increasingly credulity-stretching scenarios to get Nellie’s self-empowerment and strength-through-sisterhood arcs where they need to go.
In particular, there’s an awkwardly over-earnest monologue delivered to the remarkably forgiving miscarriage support group that Nellie accidentally crashes, a patronizing plotline involving a judgy older next-door neighbor (Vee Kumari) and a frankly grisly ending which features voiceover narration of such breathless, new-dawn optimism that it might have been scripted as a commercial for the oocyte cryopreservation lobby. “Scrambled” is a lot of fun when it’s not trying to also deliver uplift, but it ultimately proves that white, middle-class American women in their 30s can can defeat any obstacle that stands between them and the unfettered life they want, except screenwriting convention.