COVID-19 turned the world upside down, sadly taking the lives of many and transforming the way our communities gather in public spaces. It seems like the last thing anyone would want to do is relive the harrowing year of 2020 on the silver screen. Single Mother by Choice takes us back to the not-so-distant days of long lines at the grocery store, being afraid to stand in the elevator with other people, and trying to register for unemployment along with millions of other Americans; however, the film does not use the pandemic as a gimmick, but as a vehicle for its contemplation of loneliness.
Selina Ringel stars and co-writes Single Mother by Choice with her husband Dan Levy Dagerman, who also directs. The poignant comedy-drama centres on Eva, a hard-working Latinx talent agent who lives with her best friend Skye (Brittany Hall). Eva decides to act on the promise she made to herself to raise a child as a single parent if she was still unmarried in her 30s. She started her own successful business, why shouldn’t she be able to raise a baby alone? Despite protestations from her family, friends, and even gynecologist (Dagerman and Ringel find the humour in their judgment), Eva is very adamant about her decision and rejects any help, resolutely seeking artificial insemination from a sperm donor. COVID-19 makes her prove that she can’t do it all on her own.
Ringel is an absolute vision; she has a warmth and silliness that resembles Saturday Night Live’s Vanessa Bayer, and she gracefully reveals the vulnerability that hides beneath Eva’s tenacious exterior. Ringel was actually pregnant when she made the film, openly displaying her changing body, and this adds an extra layer of authenticity to the film’s feminist narrative. Ringel carries the film, with Vanessa Angel appearing in a supporting role as her firm mother and a cameo from Christy Carlson Romano.
As it did for many, COVID-19 completely ruins Eva’s plans and expectations for her pregnancy. Skye ends up getting trapped in another state with her girlfriend and decides to move out, forcing Eva to find a roommate or the money to cover the rent; Eva must try to find another job since her business is meaningless without any film productions; she has to take her birthing classes on Zoom; she can’t have a baby shower. As a viewer, it is gut-wrenching to watch these challenges keep piling on because the wounds of COVID-19 are still fresh.
Despite the melancholy real-life backdrop, Single Mother by Choice balances lighthearted sweetness with a thoughtful reflection on isolation. Despite the anxiousness of the pandemic that looms over the narrative, it is an uplifting film with warm colours, airy lighting, and a brisk pace. Dagerman and Ringel began production before COVID-19 and managed to make the real-life event work for their story in an engaging and honest way by having the pandemic directly impact the emotional journey of Eva’s character. When forced to isolate, Eva learns that she does need help and there is no shame in asking.
Single Mother by Choice affirms that it is important to lean on others and admit our frailties. This charming film is a positive depiction of an alternative family structure and features a driven female protagonist who realises the importance of human connection, a hard lesson that COVID-19 taught all of us.
Single Mother by Choice is streaming on HBO Max now
by Caroline Madden
Caroline is the author of Springsteen as Soundtrack. Her favourite films include Dog Day Afternoon, Baby It’s You, Inside Llewyn Davis, and The Lord of the Rings. She is the Editor in Chief of Video Librarian and does social media for Passion River Films. She has an MA degree in Cinema Studies from SCAD. You can follow her on Twitter @crolinss.