Rating: 3 out of 5.

My interest in SIFF selection Doula was primarily sparked for one reason and one reason only: Troian Bellisario. Long before Pretty Little Liars went off the rails, Troian consistently impressed with a performance that transcended the ABC Family setting of its twisty, borderline nonsensical narrative. Now with Doula, Troian plays a grumpy, deeply pregnant character named Deb. As is customary with her roles, Troian adds a level of prestige to her approach, acting opposite Arron Shiver, who portrays her worried husband. Look up “dramedy” in the dictionary and one would be sure to find Doula amongst its pages. A mostly by-the-numbers film, Doula is worth watching just for Troian.

When their midwife unexpectedly passes away with Deb deep in her pregnancy term, Deb and Silvio (Shiver) are left reeling. The couple, who share two young sons, explain to their children that the woman has begun her journey over the rainbow bridge. When Silvio bluntly tells them that once they die, they will be nothing but “dust,” I was taken aback by his parenting approach considering the lack of delicacy. Deb is resistant to adding on help despite clearly needing it, and thusly Silvio takes a chance on hiring the previous midwife’s son Sascha (Will Greenberg) as their new doula.

A bit of a disconnect appears to happen between what Silvio wants out of this pregnancy against Deb’s feelings that she tries her hardest to stifle. He wants her to have the baby at home, going so far as to surprise her with a non-refundable birthing tub at the baby shower. Deb however doesn’t want to have the baby naturally, and would prefer to have this third child in the comfort of a hospital. Sascha does his best not to ruffle any feathers. He tries only to insert himself as needed, and though he is a bit strange, he is undoubtedly a lovely person to chat with. His presences causes friction between the couple, as Deb warms up to him in spite of herself.

Doula is a simple, surface-level exploration of pregnancy, motherhood, and gender norms, sprinkled with casual cynicism and dark humor. Though described in the film as translating to “observant of women,” the doula here excels at helping Deb find her true self, and to restore balance to her marriage in the process. I do not think the film is anything special overall, but as a vehicle for Troian Bellisario’s talent, Doula saves the best for last.

Doula screened at 2022’s Seattle International Film Festival.

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