film Netflix’s ‘Look Both Ways’ Isn’t the Feminist Movie It Wanted To Be
The trailer for Netflix’s Look Both Ways, which debuts on the platform on Wednesday, positions the movie as timely commentary on pregnant people’s bodily autonomy in our post-Roe world. The Sliding Doors premise is simple: Natalie (Lili Reinhart)’s life splits into two alternate realities after having a one-night stand on the eve of her college graduation. In one reality, she gets pregnant, moves back in with her parents in Texas, and becomes a mom. In the other, she simply has a pregnancy scare, moves to Los Angeles with her best friend Cara (Aisha Dee) to pursue a career in graphic design, and eventually makes it big. Because the two trajectories are wildly different, it would appear as if the choice of whether or not to have a child would be a heavy one for Natalie’s character. But by the end of her story, the film didn’t deliver on any sort of thoughtful post-Roe beat, and might have actually done its viewers more harm than good.
For what it’s worth, the movie wasn’t intended to be a blazing feminist film in the first place. According to Reinhart, the script was written two years ago, and she was drawn to it for its “heartwarming” feel—an appeal that also attracted director Wanuri Kahiu to the project. But when Roe was overturned in June (long after the film had wrapped), Kahiu had other ideas for what it could stand for. In an interview with Sirius XM’s Jess Cagle—in which Cagle called the film “very not political” and “very non-judgmental”—Reinhart recounted the moment Kahiu texted her, shortly after Roe was overturned, and said, “I really want to take this opportunity to use our movie as a support of being pro-choice.” It seems, though, that the director has since changed her mind about this political messaging, saying in an interview with Variety last week that “though this film is not necessarily about choice, I love that it tells any young woman that regardless of which way your life goes, if you truly follow your heart, you’ll be good. You’re making the right decision for yourself.” So...which one is it? Is Look Both Ways just a simple feel good romcom or is it a commentary on the importance of choice?
Over the course of the film, the concept of choice is a pretty murky one. The two universes that Natalie’s life diverge into are not hinged on her choice of whether or not to keep the pregnancy, but on whether or not there is a pregnancy to take into consideration at all—remember, in the second universe, Natalie is simply embryo-free, and her pregnancy scare is just that. It’s a weird plot choice altogether, and fails to meet the moment (even the moment of two years ago, in which abortion rights were already widely under attack in the U.S.).
In the universe where Natalie becomes pregnant, termination doesn’t seem to even be on the table, despite how drastically she knows a pregnancy will change the course of her life. In a conversation with Gabe (Danny Ramirez), the potential father-to-be, he tells her that he is “pro her choice” (woof), a line of dialogue that feels far too on the nose (I was waiting for him to break the fourth wall and wink at us). Her parents, who are initially livid about the news (to a comical degree), take for granted that she is going to keep the child, knowing full well that it’ll derail their plans (a trip to Barcelona) and their daughter’s (building a career in her 20s). In the end, Natalie decides that she’ll keep the baby, which she feels she “has to do.” A pretty understandable product of centuries of societal pressure.
Despite Kahiu’s insistence that “you’ll be good” as long as you “follow your heart,” Natalie’s pregnant universe still seems to fare much worse than her baby-less counterpart. After the birth of her child, Rosie, Natalie experience a particularly dark shade of postpartum depression—not only does she feel like she’s missing out on her life, scrolling sadly through her friends’ posts on Instagram, but she stops drawing (her passion) and feels like her life has been reduced to motherhood. In a conversation with her mother, she’s let in on an allegedly little-known secret: “You mourn, you know, the person that you used to be. Because the fact is, no matter how much you want to be a mom, you’ve never not going to be one again.”
When she visits Cara, who actually did move to L.A. to follow her dreams, Natalie’s shares a view of her life that’s nothing short of a bummer. When they’re out to dinner, Natalie says, “I really cannot imagine what my life would have been like here,” adding that it’s “overwhelming” and “not meant to be.” Meanwhile, just a universe’s throw away, Natalie’s nascent L.A. life is going swimmingly; she’s an assistant to her animation idol and has a budding relationship with a coworker, Jake. Whether it’s intentional or not, for most of the movie, its message is that women have to choose between having children or a career. And if she chooses the former, she’ll suffer a one-dimensional life and will eventually be resigned to this sorry fate—apparently, in the year of our lord 2022, women really can’t have it all.
Though both version of Natalie’s life end up in relatively similar places—Mom Natalie channels her love for her daughter into a comic that is featured in a South by Southwest panel, and Career Natalie writes an animated short that is screened at the same festival—there’s a clear bias about Natalie’s life in LA being the preferable one, and a handful of tired sexist tropes are strengthened along the way. Of course, in true romcom fashion, Natalie does end up with her respective men in both universes, reminding us that in the end, what really matters is that a woman is validated by male attention. So we might just leave it at that: In this life and in all other parallel ones, we’ll put Look Both Ways next to our other heartwarming Hallmark movies and look for our political pictures elsewhere.