by Erin Coleman
The Pill (2011) – J.C. Khoury (Dir.), Noah Bean, Rachel Boston, Anna Chlumsky
I went into The Pill with reservations that I quickly abandoned after seeing it had won awards and praise, and, to be honest, I was just looking for a good time. The Pill was essentially my night out at a 4 AM bar, so my expectations were low and my nether regions were excited. I’ll admit I hated this movie upon first viewing, but wanted to revisit it so I could really deliver my venomous review with a backbone made out of steel. Lo and behold, though, The Pill turned out to be a grower, not a show-er, and I actually LIKED the movie the second time around. I definitely wouldn’t save it’s name in my phone, but I’d probably drunk text it late at night until it blocked my number. That’s love in a big city, folks.
The film starts off like so many mistakes do, with Fred (Noah Bean) and Mindy (Rachel Boston) drunkenly stumbling into Mindy’s apartment, presumably after the kind of bar-mating-ritual that would make it hard for anyone to keep their drinks down. Fred, a seemingly clean-cut and buttoned-up bro with a failed writing career, feels like a ridiculous match for Mindy, whose sloppy apartment, quirky demeanor and flighty air make you wonder what the hell they were doing talking to each other in the first place. Fred’s in the door with his hands still around Mindy’s waist when he seems to have second thoughts. It feels like such a false move for a man that sauntered into their situation, and you begin to get the feeling that what he’s really looking for is permission. Regardless of good looks he seems to be missing that validation elsewhere, and what most likely started with a little bit of bravado and a lot of drunken flirting has turned into a sneaky way of saying “So, you’re, like, totally cool with this, right?” It’s the move of a boy, not a man, and neither character is given a chance to mature when they start their game of “I Never”.
It’s the perfect one-night-stand drinking game as they’re given the chance to lure the other in with stories of adolescent recklessness, sexual deviancy and enough questionable backstory to keep them from actually respecting each other. Their goofy banter feels real and almost cute, but we’re immediately allowed to hate Fred when he uses his trip to the bathroom as an opportunity to send a lovey-dovey text to his very lucky significant other Nelly (played by Anna Chlumsky in a more uptight Amy Brookheimer from Veep role), and wraps the whole thing up with some good, old-fashioned “slut”-shaming after seeing a used condom in Mindy’s garbage can. Mindy does some very unconvincing convincing that Fred didn’t really need because WHO ARE YOU TO JUDGE ANYONE IN THOSE DOCKERS, FRED?
The movie pushed the disturbing factor into overdrive for me when Mindy decides to take things into her own hands (and sadly, her vagina) after falling asleep before our two lovebirds could have protected, consensual sex. She wakes up in the middle of the night and decides to hop on a zonked-out Fred like some kind of brokedown quarter ride outside of a Walmart, sans condom, and this is just wrong for SO MANY REASONS. First of all, Mindy.. have you not seen the video for TLC’s “Waterfalls” , Salt-N-Pepa’s “Let’s Talk About Sex” or, like, any poster in a Planned Parenthood office? STD’s are out there, so watch yourself. Secondly, guys need to give consent too. Spending the night isn’t consent, being aroused in his sleep isn’t consent, and if the roles were reversed this movie would have taken a completely different turn. The lack of judgement on both their parts and the fate we all know is in store for them makes it hard to even care about the morning after.
Once they’ve pulled themselves apart and the morning creeps in, Fred dons his ‘Relaxed Fit Dude’ act once more and asks if “everything is cool” and wants to make sure Mindy remembers to take her contraceptive-contraception (I’m still amazed he didn’t refer to her vagina as a “down-there”). Mindy reveals she’s not taking any form of birth control and suddenly Fred is an OB/GYN, quizzing her on her ovulation and menstrual cycle and urging her to go get the morning after pill. Mindy swings back and forth like a drunken socialite on a chandelier, unfairly throwing the blame on Fred for not using a condom, citing her Catholicism (“The religion with the Pope”) as the reason behind her questionable stance on birth control, and trying to soothe him with the fact that she felt fine about unprotected sex because she wanted them to feel close. Mindy’s fun and fancy free air took a turn for the worst, the way a wild night before devolves into you staring hard in the mirror the morning after, willing yourself to not throw up at brunch. The entire scene seems to sum up what I imagine is the inner dialogue they have with the other people they’ve had relationships with- “it’s not my fault, it’s yours”.
They’re almost beginning to feel like the perfect couple because they’re both off-the-rails nuts, and simultaneously using each other to feel better about themselves and as an excuse for the shitty way they feel. Fred cheats on his girlfriend as an escape and judges Mindy for enjoying sex unattached. Mindy lies about seemingly casual sex and is appalled at the thought of Fred not wanting to raise an unplanned child with her. Once we’re finally introduced to the other key players in their lives you almost want to buy the next round for whichever unlucky victim they meet next because it’s the root of their unhappiness and desperation is so clear. The personas they presented to each other the previous evening are clearly a response to the lack of confidence everyone else has in them, and you’re stuck feeling sympathetic the way you would to an abused dog that had just bitten off half your face. After spending a little time with the Fred and Mindy, you can pick up when they’ve turned themselves off and let their neuroses be the autopilot, and for two unlikeable characters it’s hard not to see that what’s happening is very real. The judgement from Mindy’s family of her single-lady lifestyle and Fred’s inability to meet his girlfriends (or his own) standards has turned the both of them into the last kids picked for the kickball team, and instead of growing into angsty teens they do the only thing adults a few years short of a mid-life crisis can do and just bang it out with the most inappropriate people in sight. They get a brief respite in between crises when Fred acts as a buffer between Mindy and her younger, judgemental sister, and when Mindy is eager and excited to read Fred’s unwritten book. They’re trying to be the very people they need in their lives, but unfortunately they’re forced to play all the characters for themselves.
The problem with seeking whom you’d like to be through the response and love of another confused person that barely knows you is that you only ever get back a distorted image of yourself and an unhealthy pinch of the other person’s issues. Fred and Mindy aren’t guilty of anything horrible in wanting, just for the night, to have fun and feel better and forget. They’re not wrong in wanting to undo what they’ve done, and even if they’re stuck together for the day by strange circumstance, it’s nice to see two people not exactly holding each other afloat, but at least offering some comfort in the fact that they’re floundering together. It’s their resistance to reality and inability to own their faults that makes them cringe-worthy to watch, and their sad, but not soul-crushing plight of walking the earth trying to be better, or at least just good enough, that’s so hard. They’re two people that deserve what so many of us have which is a lot of silly, meaningless moments, but without realizing it those meaningless moments weigh a lot heavier on their hearts. It’s pointless to spoil the ending because the conclusion and the way Fred and Mindy act towards each other at the end of the film isn’t really important. They’ve obviously wanted to get it right and have failed, maybe deservingly so, but the heart of The Pill and anyone that’s ever made a mess out of a minor moment is that there’s a lot you can do to clean up afterwards. It’s the second chance and the self-evaluation (or the viewers ability to watch the wreck from a distance) that makes the entire hour and a half worth squirming through. You might not like them or yourself, but it’s real and there’s a whole lot you can do about it. Just don’t wait until the morning.