Review: Baby Ruby Channels Post-Partum Stress, Paranoia into Middling Maternal Thriller

Perhaps I’ve just seen too many films in my lifetime in which a housewife and/or mother is driven to the edge of sanity or has a full-blown mental collapse simply from living her strenuous life and getting little or no support from her partner...

In the feature debut of playwright/actor Bess Wohl, Baby Ruby, the excellent Noémie Merlant (Tar, Portrait of a Lady on Fire) plays Jo, a successful lifestyle vlogger whose brand (of a stylish French woman living in America) is about to go into the stratosphere when she announces that she’s pregnant with her first child with husband and artisanal butcher Spenser (Kit Harington, Game of Thrones).

Jo’s pregnancy and birth seem to go well, but as soon as they get their daughter Ruby home, Jo starts believing something is wrong with her. And before long, she starts seeing signs that everyone around her is conspiring to kidnap her child while making her seem paranoid in the process. She suspects her husband, her ever-present mother-in-law (Jayne Atkinson), her doctor (Reed Birney), and even the other moms in the neighborhood—who suddenly have taken an interest in her since she gave birth—especially her new best friend Shelly (Meredith Hagner), who has a child we never quite get a glimpse of. Before long, Jo has trouble distinguishing reality from waking nightmares she seems to experience with an increasing frequency.

Writer/director Wohl always leaves open the possibility that post-partum depression and lack of sleep (Ruby cries a lot) are the real reasons for Jo’s meltdown, while also leaving the door open that a conspiracy is afoot. Some of the visuals in Baby Ruby when Jo is losing her mind are quite graphic and terrifying, especially to a new mother. Merlant absolutely sells Jo’s collapsing state of mind as well as she sells her moments when everything seems right with the world. We get a bit of backstory about her where we find out her own mother died when she was very young, so being present for her baby means everything, especially when people start suggesting she get professional help, which would take her away from Ruby.

But none of what works stops the film feeling condescending to women, both those who suffer from any mental health issues after pregnancy to those who simply struggle to be heard and believed about anything. This path to paranoia seems well-trodden and somewhat played out, and Baby Ruby doesn’t bring much to the table that feels new, with the exception of Merlant’s devastating performance, which helps in no small way to prop up this story. The ending is somewhat messy and unsatisfying as well, which adds to my frustration levels with the film overall. I expected something more substantial from a recognized playwright, something more than a post-partum Rosemary’s Baby, but Merlant almost pulls this one out of the fire without singe marks.

The film is now available in a limited theatrical run and on demand.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.