Sorry, Bridget Jones and Carrie Bradshaw — there’s a new class of 30-something protagonists flipping the script on the complex story of the single girl. The typical hot pursuit of romance above all else — career, personal passions, etc. — is no longer the crux of the narrative. In fact, for the latest dark comedy from writer, director, and actor Leah McKendrick, the lead character’s love story is actually with herself... and her eggs. Yes, you heard that right. New film Scrambled, which hits theaters nationwide Feb. 2, chronicles 34-year-old perpetual bridesmaid Nellie Robinson’s all-too-relatable egg-freezing journey, harnessing both humor and raw vulnerability that will likely hit home for many single individuals grappling with thoughts of having children in the future.
The key to the film’s authentic take is that it’s pulled directly from McKendrick’s own experience with egg-freezing, formerly known as oocyte cryopreservation, something she says hasn’t been captured well on film or TV. “So I'm 37, I am not married, I don't have a kid,” says McKendrick on a recent Zoom call. “It does feel like you, at some point, have to kind of choose. And, in Sex and the City, the only one that wanted a kid was Charlotte, and she already had this incredible career in art, but the rest of them, it's all about fashion, dates, New York City, and girlhood, which is awesome. I love Sex and the City so much, but it doesn't reflect my single years in my 30s at all.”
As McKendrick commenced her egg-freezing journey, which cost her some $14,000 out-of-pocket and required blood tests and multiple self-administered injections over the course of several weeks, she found herself feeling more discouraged than hopeful about the future. “I thought, This is my punishment for not choosing the more traditional route of a 30-something woman,” she explains. “By not finding my partner, or not making it work with one of these guys. Here's my alternate route. I have to pay for this, and I have to inject myself, and I have to go through all this harrowing pain.”
During her arduous process, McKendrick spent much of her time “bloated and uncomfortable on the couch, and just trying to disassociate from what was happening.” She spent some time researching films that touched on this specific fertility experience to uplift her or offer some comfort. “I'm Googling all the films, and they're just married couples trying to get pregnant, married couples having a miscarriage, married couples holding each other through fertility challenges,” she says. “And I was like, this is not my story, this is not what's happening [...] Where are the single girls in cinema that are taking care of themselves and the love story about them finding themselves?”
It seems the film she was searching for just hadn’t been created yet — so McKendrick got to work. The artist developed a screenplay that spoke to the very real feelings and emotions associated with fertility and egg-freezing, as well as the reactions and responses she received from those around her. McKendrick recalls one man she encountered on a dating app referring to her as a “baby farm” after she disclosed her experience to him. “I think about that guy, I really do. To me, he is symbolic of the men that don't understand the struggles of being a woman.”
Enter Scrambled. Ahead, read more about McKendrick’s directorial debut and how she changed the single-girl film genre in one fell — and very funny — swoop.
Did making the film impact how you view your real-life experience with freezing your eggs?
So on the cover page of my original script, it says, “Based on some real things that I'm currently processing.” And I think I was processing all the way through the shooting of the movie, because I was excavating that experience and revisiting that experience and reenacting that experience. What I didn't realize until I was watching and editing the movie was, in many ways, it's a love letter to me. It was like I wrote a rom-com, where in the end I fell in love with myself. In the end, the man of my dreams was me, and that was not an intentional goal of mine. I just knew that I didn't end up with a guy in the end.
That would've been so disingenuous, if I had some Mr. Perfect come along after she freezes her eggs. That never happened. So, I had it reflect my real-life experience, which was that I came out of the other end feeling like I had a new lease on life, feeling like anytime anybody asks, “Are you worried about kids?” I always say, “I've got eggs in the freezer. I'm not worried.” And that was the truth, that I felt younger, braver, more adult, all at the same time.
As you were creating the film, was there any part of it or any specific scene that you were maybe hesitant about putting out there?
The support group scene.
That was my favorite scene! I loved how Nellie was so encouraged and embraced by people who had lived through miscarriages and had different experiences and perspectives in terms of fertility, but could still relate to her pain and frustration. I thought it was so touching.
It was a very loaded scene for me and it's a turning point in the film. We hadn’t really done anything quite that heavy and emotional in the film until that moment. For me, it was our first week of shooting, and I just had these sky-high expectations for it. I’m still getting my footing as a director and with the cast. And we have this circle of women here as well as Mimi Kennedy, the actress that plays the support group leader, and I was just so nervous.
There's a lot of people on set, but it feels like this super vulnerable, deeply female experience, that you almost want to be cocooned, but there are people around. It's a bit of a circus, but it's this big reveal for Nellie and for me. That story of the ex, the story of how I feel about procreation, that's all real, that's all me. That's me talking honestly to an audience, to the world, what I feel, the heartbreak it was leaving my ex, the heartbreak of I don't know what kind of mom I'd be.
What was the initial reaction to your idea for the film as you were shopping it around?
[I was told] that it was risky, that female-driven comedies feel niche, that the film was not very commercial, and me starring in it was a risk. [I was told] I'm not a movie star, I’m a first-time director — a female director. And here's the thing about Hollywood: Nobody wants to say to your face, “We don't believe in you as a first-time director,” or, “We don't think female-led comedies work.”
I had an experience with a company, all women, women-led, women-created, that really dissuaded me from starring in my movie. And it was like they wanted to support my film, they wanted to support me as a director, but they were like, “Let's cast somebody else.” And I said, “It's a non-negotiable.” First of all, the way that I view it in my head, she's very naked, it's a lot of sex, it's very gritty, I don't see her wearing makeup in many scenes. It's not an attractive role in some scenes. And I don't know that I want to coerce an actress to go places that I don't know if she's ready to go to. It was my story, I lived it, I know how raw it gets and how raw it needs to be.
One of the people at that company was at the South By Southwest premiere [in 2023] and asked to go to lunch with me. I told her how hurt I was by that process. And she said, “We underestimated you, and I'm sorry that you felt that way. I see why you felt that way and we were wrong about you. We made a mistake.” So in some ways, the justice has been served, but it hurts you as an artist when you are being told all this messaging with beautiful, flowery wording. But that the message is clear — we don't think this is going to work the way that you see it.
What are your hopes for this film and its message?
I would love it if we could give more grace to single girls in their 30s and 40s. Let's give some love, let's give some space. We don't need to be asking who they're dating, when they're getting married, when they're having kids. Why don't we celebrate the wins that they are having? Because I promise you, we are all having wins. We are all accomplishing huge sh*t outside of boyfriends, marriages, babies. So what if you asked your single friend or your single family member, “What are you excited about right now? What have you been up to? What have you been working on? What are you proud of right now?”
What’s been some initial feedback from people who’ve seen the film?
I'm very touched by men that say they had no idea how hard it was [to go through the egg-freezing process]. I think that’s the sign of a really good man, to go back and examine himself. Also, I did this big screening at USC, and a woman said to me, “It makes me want to text my sister who struggled to get pregnant and just had a baby, but really had a hard time on the journey. I just want to text her, ‘You are amazing. I'm so proud of you and what you've been through, and I'm here for you.’” And I'm like, oh my God, what could be better than that?
How does your family feel about it?
So my dad, my brother, and my mom have not seen it. I'm going home to San Francisco, and we're going to all watch it together. I'm most terrified of what my dad is going to say, because in some ways you could say that the dad character is like the villain. He's symbolic of this sort of problematic society and this old guard of men. But I think, ultimately, it's a beautiful arc between them.
But you know, he said something to me recently that makes me want to cry even just thinking about it. I was dating somebody when I started shooting the film. I broke up with him three weeks into shooting, because he was not feeling very supportive. After I wrapped the movie, my dad asked about him. He's like, “How's your boyfriend?” And I said, “Dad, we broke up.” I was just bracing for, “Do you have the time to be breaking up with boyfriends right now? What are you doing? Are you sure?”
And he says, “Well, you've got eggs.” And that, to me, was a big win, that he was seeing that a man was not the end-all be-all, that I was taking care of myself. Children are on ice, but also you didn't need him because you have a home. You are your own man right now.
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