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Film Review: Scrambled

FILM REVIEW
SCRAMBLED
Rated R
97 Minutes
Limited Release February 2nd

In Scrambled, her first feature film as a director, Leah McKendrick has painted a vivid picture of the pain, heartache, deep frustration, and joy of possessing a mid-30s female body in today’s society. The film’s style is simple, with no fancy action scenes or special effects, and McKendrick has the courage to tell it like it is, with all the raw details on display. She also plays the central character, “Nellie.”. At the age of 34, Nellie has the uncomfortable twinge that is common to many women in their thirties who have not yet started their own families, a feeling that they may never get the chance. This race against time fuels the sometimes shocking, often hilarious, always heartfelt impulses that guide Nellie’s actions throughout the story. 

McKendrick does not put Nellie on a pedestal. As the only unmarried one among her group of friends, she is decidedly the outsider. How she can satisfy her yearning and preserve her unique personality and place in her world without losing her mind, is the story of this film. The secret is that she finds help from unlikely sources along the way. The editing and camera work is excellent, heightening the emotions written on faces and body movement, and the flow of the narrative moves steadily. The writing is very smart, refreshingly new, and not overdone, and McKendrick is not afraid to strike a “word dagger” when necessary. She seems to write from instinct.

McKendrick has cast the film with unique actors who each bring personality to their characters, even if only on screen for a few moments. Clancy Brown is both charming and exasperating as Nellie’s Dad. Best friend “Sheila” is played with great emotional range by Saturday Night Live’s Ego Nwodim. McKendrick, as Nellie, buries inside her character a terror of aging out underneath a high-energy, quick-to-comedy, always-there-to-help, life-of-the-party personality. Is she facing a FOMO, comparing herself to her married friends? Or is she the one who has the strength to be her own individual and to figure out how to have a little of the best of both worlds.

I met McKendrick when she had just graduated from Chapman College’s theatre program, and Phil Brock recruited her to our roster at Studio Talent Group. In this business of constant rejection and disappointment, she has persevered. Having trained since her teen years as an actress, singer, and screenwriter, she has built her career one step at a time. She started in 2007 with roles in small film and TV projects, then wrote, produced, and starred in her own pop musical web series in 2014, starred in M.F.A., her feature debut, which premiered at the South by Southwest Film Fest in 2017, was hired as a writer on Paramount’s Grease prequel in 2019, and wrote, directed and co-starred in the short film Pamela & Ivy in 2022. All has culminated in this extraordinary film, Scrambled. I recently spoke with McKendrick and asked her how much of Nellie’s experience was based on her own life. She said, “A lot. It’s a heightened version of my life.” She noted that the experience of writing, directing, and acting in her own film meant that her brain “was on such intense overdrive –there wasn’t enough space for a whole lot of fear to creep in!”  

Scrambled is realistic and well-written, illustrating the challenges that a woman can face when not conforming to the social standard of husband and kids.  The good, the bad, and the ugly are all on display here; nothing is glossed over. This period of a woman’s life can be painfully difficult, both tragic and comic, and it may appear bizarre to others. I know, I’ve been there. I can say this is a genuine, refreshingly honest, earnest story that does not lose sight of the fact that life at almost any stage and situation can be fun if you let it. The movie surprised me. It’s well worth your time. And keep your eyes open for McKendrick’s next project, a romcom she wrote for Netflix.

Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which has been the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people.  She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. kboole@gmail.com

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