Review by Sean Boelman
Sundance’s opening night usually features some of the highest-profile premieres of the event, and this year, The Pod Generation fits that bill. With an A-list cast and a high-concept sci-fi premise that is full of potential, it’s a shame that Sophie Barthes’s romantic comedy isn’t better than it is.
The film is set in a future where couples are able to have biological children without getting pregnant via external “pods” as one couple finds themselves torn between embracing the future and staying with what is “natural.” It’s certainly an intriguing premise, but unfortunately, it is not expanded upon in a way that is particularly compelling.
For a movie that has so much on its mind, it’s disappointing to see it do frustratingly little. Barthes’s script posits several interesting questions about parenthood, including the big one — what does it mean to be a parent? — but her idea of satire seems to be simply commenting on these issues without engaging them in a particularly interesting way.
Barthes also clearly thinks that she has made something hilarious and witty, when in reality, the humor is about as rudimentary as it gets. There are several points in which you can almost feel the gap that was left in the dialogue for a laugh that never comes, such as one scene in which there is a hard cut after a fight to the husband begrudgingly complying with his wife’s wishes.
Still, even with its shallow commentary and unfunny humor, the film could have succeeded had the audience been able to feel any sort of emotional connection with the characters. It’s ironic — tragic even — that a movie poking fun at our disconnection with the world feels so cold and stolid itself. But unfortunately, we don’t really get to know enough about these characters to care about what happens to them.
Even the talented cast is wasted. Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones) does much of the heavy lifting, but she feels woefully miscast here, lacking the comedic timing to pull this off. Chiwetel Ejiofor shows more potential, but he struggles to channel his inner Cary Grant to Clarke’s lame attempt at Katherine Hepburn in this dour modernization of screwball comedy.
The one thing that this film does get right is its production design. The world that Clem Price Thomas has built to bring Barthes’s vision to life is wholly immersive, setting up a wonderful satire only for the script to cause it to falter. All of the most interesting ideas in the movie come from the visual elements, such as the pods themselves.
The Pod Generation has the makings of an intriguing sci-fi satire, but the script is so full of itself that it fails to be entertaining or thought-provoking. It’s a film that feels like it was made by someone who envies the off-the-grid lifestyle but doesn’t really understand what it entails.
The Pod Generation is playing at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, which runs January 19-29 in-person in Park City, UT and January 24-29 online.