When you type “zany synonyms” in Google, you find words like avant-garde, eccentric, quirky, and so on. But Netflix’s latest rom-com, The Wonder Weeks (Oei, ik growing! in its original language, Dutch), directed by Appie Boudellahis and Aram van de Rest, is none of that, despite Netflix projecting it as a “Zany” comedy on the website. Of course, not everything Netflix says has to be true, and ninety percent of their original movies are forgettable, but this movie is god-awful. I wish I had a less harsh word to describe it, but this is just how it is.
I don’t mind the romantic comedy or family comedy genres. If things are done well, films of these genres can turn out to be as satisfactory as eating a bag full of potato chips when you have no other snacks available. But the problem with Netflix is that they have this exasperating tendency to apply an equivalent of TikTok filter to everything, especially when it comes to the comedy genre. No matter what language and culture the particular movie belongs to, it looks the same as any other Netflix movie of the same kind. This one, for instance, a Dutch movie about post-motherhood, looks exactly like any American Netflix content. It has the same glossy cinematography and overly bright color grading—something that guarantees that everyone should be happy by the end, and so should you. That said, “The Wonder Weeks” is not exactly terrible from the get-go. The start is kind of messy, as you are introduced to all the characters within the first five minutes. But once you get settled with the who’s who, you do have a moderately decent time, provided you keep your expectations in check.
It begins with first-time mothers Anne and Ilse delivering babies—a girl for Anne and a boy for Ilse. Anne is a lawyer with apparently a supportive husband, Barry. Ilse is in a relationship with a Moroccan man, Sabri, with an overly involved mother. Meanwhile, Kim and Rose are pregnant with their third baby. Their donor, Kaj, who happens to be an old friend of Rose, suddenly wants to get involved as a father. Kaj is also the father of the couple’s two other children. Given Kaj is a bumbling man with a supposedly shady past, Kim is very much against the dude being anything other than the donor, which pretty much makes sense to me, but this is not that kind of movie. Anyway, all these people are friends with each other. Anne’s newborn Mia has a growing obesity issue, a subplot that gets so much importance throughout the movie but somehow vanishes into thin air by the end. That’s not the only trouble in the lawyer-mama’s life. She is unable to get her daughter into a daycare facility because so many people had babies during the pandemic, and now the daycares are full. But there’s a solution, which is getting a membership in an exclusive club called “Moms for Moms” which is owned by none other than Kim. So it’s a no-brainer for Anne to join the club, especially when she is also Kim and Rose’s lawyer, settling the parenting agreement between Kim, Rose, and Kaj.
There was a point where I thought the movie would probably go on just like this and end with everyone accepting that life is not all perfect. As expected, Barry turns out to be an absent-minded husband, who does something as disgusting as touching himself while looking at the nanny’s picture. Kaj showed the usual signs of incompetence in his dad’s duties. And things got sour between Ilse and Sabri’s family regarding the circumcision of her baby. But every single issue gets sorted out in the final fifteen minutes, and that is where the movie turns into something unbearable.
I am not saying a director has any responsibility for getting everything right. Cinema is always a medium of expression and never a tool for preaching morally correct socially acceptable things. But then this movie says it’s okay to give your husband a free pass, even after he gratifies himself to the nanny’s photo and stays an ignorant father to the baby for the entire time. This movie also emphasizes having a “father figure” in a kid’s life when the kid has lesbian parents. In order to establish Kaj, a man with a criminal record, as a well-intentioned dad, the movie deliberately villainizes Kim by reducing her to an unlikeable, overbearing mother. If that’s not all, this movie tells you it’s absolutely okay if your child gets accidentally circumcised, even when you are completely against the idea. Among all the characters, Anne is the only one who shows some resilience to every bad thing the movie preaches to be good, but all that goes down the drain by the end when she opts for a “happy family” with a husband like Barry.
In many ways, The Wonder Weeks feels like Netflix paying homage to the infamous Bengali director duo of Shiboprosad Mukherjee and Nandita Roy, popularly known as Shibu-Nandita. For the unintended, these two take pride in making movies where they glorify a very baffling kind of regressive culture. And a large section of the Bengali audience gobbled that up as “great cinema.” For example, in one of their most popular movies, Prakton (Former), a working woman is literally shamed for not accepting the demands of her good-for-nothing, man-child husband, who keeps mistreating her. In another of their movies, Belaseshe (which roughly translates to old age), an elderly woman finds the smell of her husband’s urine romantic, and this is not projected as a kink or something like that. I could go on and on, but I think you get the drill.
The Wonder Weeks, at the end of the day, basically tells us that we, as an audience, are supposed to ignore all the problematic things it is preaching and swallow the whole thing as a happy pill. If that sounds right to you even in 2023, then you might actually enjoy watching The Wonder Weeks, Who knows?