The title of Google Baby is a little misleading -- if you went into the movie cold, you'd think it was about something cute. Babies are cute, right? In this documentary, however, babies are a commodity item, and the film examines the new ways that people who can't have babies themselves are using the latest technology to acquire them. As the introduction points out, in the 1960s birth control innovations made it easy to take childbirth out of sex; the latest surrogacy innovations make it easy to take sex out of childbirth.
The primary focus of Google Baby is on a surrogacy clinic in Gujarat, India. Women are impregnated with someone else's embryos and carry them to term, and in return earn enough money to send their children to school or to help buy their family a house. The women live in the clinic from the moment of impregnation to birth, although their families may visit occasionally. It's a very female place -- you see the occasional visiting husband or a male doctor in the operating room, but rest of the staff, up to the owner/doctor, tend to be women.
The documentary alternates between the India clinic and an Israeli businessman, Doron. Doron and his partner have a little girl who was born out of the surrogacy process. The couple went through the process in the U.S. and it cost upwards of $100K. Doron notices that other gay couples he knows want to have children but can't afford those kinds of fees, and he hatches a plan to cut costs. His business plan would rely on outsourcing to India, as many high-tech businesses have done, but this time what he's outsourcing is surrogate motherhood. The movie walks him through some test cases that involve a Virginia egg donor, an Israeli lab and a Mumbai surrogacy clinic.
The scenes in the clinic are vivid and powerful, but Google Baby often veers off into irrelevancies, even at its short length of 70-odd minutes. For instance, I have no idea why we needed to see the egg donor and her family showing off their rifles and doing a little hunting practice -- was this meant to stereotype them in some way, or cause ridicule? It lends nothing to the film's themes and storyline. The ending was also weak -- Doron's story is not resolved well. Also, since a great deal of the movie is about varying costs of surrogacy, I would have liked to have seen statistics all in one place. How much did Doren's outsourcing plan cost versus what he paid using an American surrogate? How much is a woman from India paid, versus a woman in the United States? The movie instead chooses to close on a more personal note in India.
Google Baby, the directorial debut for Zippi Brand Frank, shows us a number of trends that could be viewed as innovative or disturbing ... possibly both. Westerners are using impoverished women in India to help them procure the babies they cannot have themselves, and to do it at cut-rate prices. On the other hand, these women are able to raise money for their families in ways they might not have been able to do otherwise. Sex never enters in the equation here -- it is all about technology and outsourcing, as much as a software product release might be. It's a fascinating topic, and the movie has some strong moments, but I wished the story arc was stronger.