I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
A few interesting things — very unusual things — about writer-director Debbie Tucker Green’s Second Coming. It opens with 40-ish Londoner Jackie (Nadine Marshall: Leave to Remain) confiding in a friend over lunch about her misgivings regarding her unexpected pregnancy, and discussing her abortion options. The words “pregnancy” and “abortion” are never mentioned, but their conversation isn’t coded, per se, merely presented more as the sort of everyday conversation that women everywhere have all the time and we all know what we’re talking about. Yet we hardly ever see this sort of conversation onscreen, which is unforgivable given how this subject is a reality of most women’s lives, whether we have kids or not, whether we want them or not: conflicted feelings over being pregnant and incipient motherhood… or maybe not incipient at all, because there are other options.
So that’s good. Amazing, even. And necessary.
And then there’s Jackie’s life at home with husband Mark (Idris Elba: Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Gunman) and young teen son J.J. (Kai Francis Lewis). Green creates a remarkable portrait of everyday domestic intimacy: it’s cozy, messy, welcoming, sometimes stressful and sometimes stress-relieving… sometimes swinging very quickly from one to the other. Marshall and Elba are utterly worshippable in how they bring it alive, like we’re peeking in on a real family. It’s genuinely beautiful, and also not something we see depicted onscreen with such warmth and wisdom.
But here’s the problem. If not for the title of the film — we means exactly what you think it does — we would not have the faintest idea why Jackie is conflicted about her pregnancy. And even given that Jackie insists that she really shouldn’t be pregnant — she and Mark have been a bit aloof lately and they haven’t had sex in a while — there’s absolutely no conflict of any kind until too far too late into the film, when Jackie is far into the pregnancy, but not far enough, as much as Mark can see. As he says, he can count, and he knows that he cannot be the father. So of course he accuses her of infidelity, which is really the only reasonable explanation for her pregnancy. Jackie knows differently, but she does nothing with that knowledge. She doesn’t try to seek answers or support, she just suffers alone. Except we don’t even see her suffering until she comes under a torrent of horrible verbal abuse from Mark, which she endures silently and meekly. It’s a cruel scene, and appears intended as nothing so much as a way to suggest the cruelty of the Biblical story this is inspired by. I mean, really, in the 21st century, when there’s little stigma to single motherhood, the Almighty couldn’t have chosen a mother for his sprog who wasn’t going to get her into trouble with a husband or boyfriend?
And even if the film was consciously constructed to make a point about that Bible story — and I’m not sure that it was — it still doesn’t work on that level. Because there’s only that one scene that works on that level.
The film leaves us in no doubt at all that we are to accept as 100 percent real the supernatural event it presents, and yet it makes absolutely no case for it whatsoever. Not even as fantasy. If Jackie is religious, we have no idea. But even if she isn’t, for the love of pete, this Bible story is inescapable in our culture, yet no one — no one — makes the slightest mention of it. It’s not that any film needs to explain itself entirely, but this one appears to refuse to engage with its own subject in any way at all.
Second Coming feels very badly miscalculated, in that it commits one of the more unforgivable sins for movies: it doesn’t seem to know what it is about, and it doesn’t seem to have anything to say. It feels like a short film padded out to feature length. And it wouldn’t have been satisfying as a short film, either.