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Jefferson Root Written by Jefferson Root
Apr. 5, 2011 | 2:03 PM

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Beverly Hills Film Festival Review: CONCEPTION

Writer/Director Josh Stolberg’s new comedy Conception, which screens on Wednesday night as part of the Beverly Hills Film Festival, begins on an ominous note.  After a handsomely shot, but superfluous montage of images meant to establish the film’s setting as Los Angeles, the action shifts to a classroom of roughly kindergarten age kids.  All are adorable, most are precocious, and one decides to end the session by asking their teacher (David Arquette) where babies come from.  Their teacher hems and haws as he tries to dodge the question, and then we’re treated to a few more ideas on the subject from the kids in the class.  Fortunately, this is just a prologue, and the film quickly moves into more adult territory.  Following nine couples (that’s right, nine) at various stages of trying to conceive, Conception feels both overstuffed and curiously thin, but an able and attractive cast make it go down easily enough.

A graduate of USC Film School, Stolberg has a number of studio projects to his credit.  Testosterone fueled big budget vehicles like Good Luck Chuck and last year’s Piranha 3D ,  which he wrote, are a long way off from what Stolberg is attempting here.  The couples wrestling with baby issues in Conception run the gamut from a couple trying to rekindle their romance after giving birth, a lesbian couple employing a sperm donor, and a younger man who’s enjoying the favors of a sexually active mom with a teenage daughter.  We’re also treated to a couple who don’t mean to conceive, a pair of teenagers taking their chances with a risky condom, and a couple who are trying to aid conception with the help of every known biological trick in the book.  Using split screen techniques to transition from one couple to the next, the couples all have their moments, but the film’s scant 86 minute running time doesn’t allow much of a chance for any of the individual stories to resonate.

The good news is that Stolberg is a deft dialogue writer, and he’s filled his film with a roster of veteran character actors who inhabit the material well.  Fans of ABC’s Modern Family will enjoy seeing Julie Bowen playing such an uninhibited role, and the film also features Sarah Hyland, who plays Bowen’s daughter on the show.  Stolberg assigns Hyland the role of a teen who’s willing to give up her virginity if her boyfriend will give up meat, and Hyland is earnest and charming in the way she tries to convince her beau of the horrors of the slaughterhouse.  Jonathan Silverman and Jennifer Finnegan also have a nice rapport as a married couple who are trying to get the spark back in their sex lives.

As a film, Conception doesn’t really work.  It’s maddeningly episodic, and while Stolberg supplies a coherent theme, that’s not the same thing as a compelling narrative.  Although plagued by its own narrative flaws, Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up handled similar subject matter with more complexity.  Conception, after all, is only the beginning of the story. By focusing exclusively on that aspect, Stolberg’s film is able to up its sex quotient, but the end result still feels a bit thin.  Still, especially for those who have a direct interest in the subject matter (Full Disclosure: I have a six month old at home myself), the movie has enough enjoyable moments to make it worth the viewing.

Conception screens as part of the Beverly Hills Film Festival on Wednesday, April 6th.  For more information and tickets, visit

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