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I wasn’t entirely sure what I would get with The Pod Generation. When it comes to Science Fiction it’s tough to say whether something will go down a dark path or perhaps linger too much in an abstract space. It isn’t pushy, and it isn’t groundbreaking, but it has a whimsical feel, a delightful score, and funny loveable leads. Sometimes, that’s enough.
In a futuristic society, technology has made daily life one of convenience through AI-assisted living. From a Siri-like home that makes your food, analyzes your mood (and sometimes makes snarky comments) to even an AI therapist. It has gone as far as to make portable wombs that the child is created within allowing ease with childbirth too. Gone are the days of carrying a child and giving birth. Now, there’s a choice.
The Pod Generation follows a New York couple, Rachel (Emilia Clarke) and Alvy (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Rachel works as an executive at a tech company, while Alvy is a botanist, spending his days working with his plants and teaching children. Within their separate fields their opinion on the use of the “Womb Center” is also split with Alvy preferring a natural birth.
When Rachel gets bumped up the waiting list she keeps it to herself and gets more information and tours the facility alone. She does share it eventually with Alvy and his initial stance slowly begins to change. From there, their journey continues.
The Ups and Downs
I thought it was subtly effective, with some gorgeous and intriguing sci-fi designs. It was different than I thought, funnier, delightfully quirky, but also sweet and hopeful.
It moves leisurely which makes some gaps felt and had me yearning for smoother transitions. There are also a lot of questions that are generated without any of the moving components explained. It doesn’t bother me too much but the aesthetics are curious and a longer look at the mechanics of this society would have made it more compelling.
It feels satiric but in a gentle fashion, more of a nod than a full commitment. The social commentary element and our reliance on technology is the primer, but it veers more into the relationship between these two leads whilst in this transition.
Directed by Sophie Barthes, the world created is presented in colorful or muted hues that feel soothing like a visual lullaby. It isn’t harsh like many sci-fi’s and looks more like Her in its direction. The lighting and production design make each area its own, clean, distant space.
The script is also by Barthes and this is where The Pod Generation struggles some. In some ways, the synopsis is loose enough that it’s truncated and doesn’t seem like a complete feature length. Despite this, the performances and the direction, as well as the overall look make The Pod Generation worth a watch.
The humor is present throughout, from the awkward process of pods, and the comical appraisals of the AI to the banter between our couple. One of the funny recurring schticks is the overbearing AI that seems like an Alexa on ultra-drive, with a cheeky and intrusive presence.
It has some similarities to last year’s After Yang but there are also many differences (that was one of my favorites of last year). Where that film transcends the gap of human and AI interaction in a powerful way, this is a lighter take.
Both Emilia Clarke and Chiwetel Ejiofor are terrific, holding this film together even when it begins to wobble. Their chemistry feels natural and both exude a warmth onscreen that feels comfortable. Each of their characters takes the situation differently, playing their roles in alternating levels of commitment and surrender. Despite the disconnected nature of the pod, watching their journey as the delivery date approaches is moving.
Tender and imaginative, it may teeter, but The Pod Generation is elevated by strong performances, humor, and unique world-building.
The Pod Generation premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January 2023. It currently doesn’t have a theatrical release date.
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Kristy Strouse is Editor in Chief of Film Inquiry, writer, podcaster, and all around film and TV fanatic. She's also VP of Genomic Operations at Katch Data and is a member of The Online Association of Female Film Critics.