Selina Ringel in Single Mother by Choice (Photos: Two Hand Productions)

★★★ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Dan Levy Dagerman
STARS Selina Ringel, Vanessa Angel

Get ready for the onslaught of movies involving the ongoing pandemic, as various filmmakers will think it’s clever to incorporate the crisis into their films as a colorful backdrop. At least one has already been announced: According to writer-director David Gordon Green, Halloween Ends, the follow-up to last year’s atrocious Halloween Kills, will dump some COVID-19 into its storyline. Michael Myers, just kill me now.

Single Mother by Choice is another movie with an eye on the pandemic, yet, in this instance, the inclusion works. And what’s most remarkable about this is that when the husband-and-wife team of writer-director-producer Dan Levy Dagerman and writer-producer-actress Selina Ringel first began making their film, there was no pandemic anywhere in sight.

Ringel and Dagerman opted to take Ringel’s real-life pregnancy and build a fictional movie around it, largely making up the story as filming progressed and her belly got bigger. So when the picture begins in the fall of 2019, the focus is on Eva Garcia (Ringel), a woman whose plan was always to have a child on her own in her 30s, whether or not there was a man in her life. There isn’t, so Eva chooses the IVF route, a decision that pleases her mom (Vanessa Angel) and her roommate and best friend Skye (Brittany S. Hall).

Selina Ringel and Vanessa Angel in Single Mother by Choice

But then COVID-19 crashes the scene, and Eva suddenly finds herself alone. Skye has been visiting her girlfriend elsewhere and thus can’t return home, and Eva, mindful that she’s more at risk as a pregnant woman, is adamant about not allowing any of her friends or family into her apartment. A strong-willed individual, Eva always had a DIY work ethic, but as her sudden loss of income forces her to downsize her business, seek a new roommate to share costs, and sell her expensive possessions on eBay, she realizes that it’s OK to accept assistance wherever one might find it. But finding help in the middle of a global crisis isn’t that easy.

In an effort to capture the entire zeitgeist of the times, there’s a scene where Eva drives to a BLM protest to join in denouncing the murder of George Floyd, only to change her mind for the sake of her unborn baby. While it’s always nice to have more footage of these tumultuous times for the sake of historical record, it’s an awkward scene that’s clumsily shoehorned into the narrative.

Barring this sequence, Single Mother by Choice does a fine job of capturing the state of the nation during the pandemic, particularly through those fateful first months when a lack of understanding, a surplus of confusion, and (alas) dismissal from an abhorrent leader and his groupies were the norm. And through it all, Eva proves herself to be resourceful and resilient, and audience admiration for the character (and, by extension, the actress playing her) only continues to grow as she navigates her way through uncharted territory. There’s not only a baby behind Eva’s expanding tummy — there’s also a fire in her belly, an enveloping warmth to protect her child as it prepares to enter a strange new world.

(Single Mother by Choice is presently available on HBO Max.)

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