I keep returning to the fan’s question about why Jo’s baby isn’t online yet. Bess Wohl didn’t give Jo a regular job like a teacher or accountant. Wohl made her an influencer for a reason. Jo set herself up as an authority on many things, including motherhood, an experience she hadn’t even had yet. When Spencer reads out loud from a parenting advice book, Jo is contemptuous: she won’t take advice so “cliched.” She is not a cliche, thankyouverymuch. She’s special. She doesn’t need a book published in the ’80s to tell her what to do. That advice will be passé and probably “problematic” as well. Jo will become the Avatar of Momhood for this new supposedly freer generation.
It’s in this charged arena of cultural observation—entitled girl boss culture, the “pick me girl” turned new mom, the private citizen acting like a celebrity/expert—that “Baby Ruby” has some real bite, not as much bite as “Ingrid Goes West” but close. Unfortunately, these elements are presented more as background noise rather than the main event. Instead, we get scene after scene of Jo seeing horrible things and then “waking up” to realize it was all a dream, although maybe it wasn’t.
Birth is a physically traumatic event. The body and mind need time to recover. Hormones surge through the mother’s body as the pressures—internal and external—pile up. You are expected to be in a state of bliss. You are expected to be automatically “good” at mothering. You are expected to lose the baby weight. Being Extremely Online, as Jo is, intensifies these pressures, something lifestyle bloggers rarely acknowledge. Jo expects her daughter to respond with gratitude to the carefully curated world set up for her. Instead, Ruby wails. Jo’s existential crisis is similar to the one Sylvia Plath so hauntingly evoked in her short poem Child. Plath wanted her child’s eye to see only beautiful things, and instead, the child looks up from its crib to see …
Wringing of hands, this dark
Ceiling without a star.”
There’s a lot of power in those words and a lot of validation for new mothers who suffer from postpartum depression. “Baby Ruby” backs off from the commentary it encourages.
Now playing in theaters and available on demand.