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TIFF ’23 Review: ‘Chuck Chuck Baby’ rekindles childhood romance

‘Chuck Chuck Baby’ is a melodic love story between two women who’ve led difficult paths

A scene from ‘Chuck Chuck Baby’
A scene from ‘Chuck Chuck Baby’ courtesy of TIFF
A scene from ‘Chuck Chuck Baby’ courtesy of TIFF

‘Chuck Chuck Baby’ is a melodic love story between two women whose difficult paths finally brought them back to each other.

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” But that is often easier said than done. Sometimes trying to make the best of a situation only makes things worse. Or waiting too long to find a solution to sour circumstances can make them more difficult to resolve. Feeling stuck is a sentiment that comes up a lot as people become resigned to accepting the cards they were dealt rather than trying to improve their hand. It can take something radical to finally shake things up. In Chuck Chuck Baby, a woman is bolstered by the return of a childhood friend.

Helen’s (Louise Brealey) life hasn’t turned out anything like she expected. She lives in her ailing mother-in-law’s (Sorcha Cusack) house with her husband (Celyn Jones), his younger girlfriend (Emily Fairn) and their baby. When Helen is not working at the poultry packaging plant, she’s caring for a woman who shows more spirit than her on her deathbed. The one thing helping Helen keep it together is her dynamic friends at the factory, who appear to do more clowning around than work most of the time. When one of them announces Joanne (Annabel Scholey) is coming back, Helen can barely find the courage to face her — her life has gone so wrong. But Joanne’s arrival sparks something inside Helen and rekindles feelings they’d both buried years earlier.

It seems like everyone in Helen’s life but Helen can see she needs to extract herself from this toxic situation. Helen’s love for her MIL is a weight around her neck, but it’s also easy to see why she wouldn’t want to leave the wonderful woman. Similarly, factory work is typically portrayed as very depressing, but Helen’s workplace is the opposite. That’s not to say they can’t wait to clock out each day, but that they are supportive of each other and have fun (though you may reconsider eating poultry or at least add a washing to your prep list). It’s Joanne that finally gives Helen a new lease on life, reminding her what it’s like to enjoy living and spending time with someone who appreciates her.

This film is energized by a lively soundtrack, to which the characters sing-along and choreograph their movements. It’s not quite a full-blown musical, but is teetering on the edge as the songs selected are designed to express the characters’ emotions in the given scene. Moreover, most of them are powerful, female-led tunes that in turn empower the women lip-syncing. It’s a beautiful way to integrate the soundtrack into the narrative and invigorate otherwise banal scenes.

There’s little doubt how the movie has to end, but the journey is both vexing (they should’ve let someone take Helen’s husband down a peg) and whimsical.

Chuck Chuck Baby had its international premiere in the Centrepiece programme at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Read other reviews from the festival.

Director: Janis Pugh
Starring: Louise Brealey, Annabel Scholey and Edyta Budnik

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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