In case you hadn't noticed, women are crazy about babies. They love the drooling lil' things. Bring a baby into the room, and the collective female I.Q. drops about 50 points as they melt into a gaggle of cooing ooh-aah-look-at-the-baby balls of swoon.
See, I get to say that because I'm a woman. If a male critic were to write that, it would bring down a swift rain of feminist fire so hot that it would rival the firebombing of Dresden. And I can't help but think that if men were responsible for bringing a movie like Baby Mama to the screen, that there'd be some small outcry about the film's baldly pro-baby-craziness agenda.
But wait. While Saturday Night Live regulars Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are the stars -- and obviously the material here is tailored to their strengths -- the film was produced by their SNL boss Lorne Michaels. It was written and directed by SNL writer Michael McCullers, who was also responsible for the gawd-awful Thunderbirds movie and the Austin Powers trilogy. So it's another comedy about women's experience that's been created by people who aren't, well, women.
Not that men can't make good movies about pregnancy and childbirth, mind you. After all, Knocked Up, despite its many flaws, did a decent job of mining comedy from the male perspective. But when men make movies about women, the movies tend to become a tad one-dimensional (as do, too often, the female characters). And before you go all IMDb on my butt and point out that there are two women with executive-producer credits on Baby Mama, take a moment to remember that "executive producer" is a title that's generally conferred on people who are involved with things like development or financing, not the creative end.
In the interest of full disclosure, I'll admit that I'm childless. And happily so. And I'm also a writer, which means that I toil for a modest paycheck -- so a movie about a wealthy executive who's so desperate for a baby that she pays $100,000 to an agency for a surrogate is, well, a little like science fiction to me. Fey's character, Kate Holbrook, may as well be a Terminator for all that I can relate to her. So who knows? Maybe this movie really does accurately depict the whole baby-wanting process.
But as likable as Fey is, I can't imagine that most women, even the ones who want to have babies, can really relate to Kate. Her job as vice-president of the feel-good, organic grocery chain Round Earth (think Whole Foods) enables her to live in a swanky apartment, wear well-tailored business attire, and get the honor of overseeing the opening of a new store in her home town of Philadelphia. But Kate, of course, is unfulfilled. She wants a baby, and her obsession with conceiving is part of the reason that she can't get past a first date with potential suitors.
After a gynecologist tells her that he "doesn't like" her uterus (a very funny, too-short scene with Daily Show regular/"PC" in the "PC vs. Mac" ads John Hodgman), she seeks help from a surrogate agency run by a deliciously smug Sigourney Weaver. The cost, she's told, will be $100,000 ("It costs more to have someone born than to have someone killed!" Kate exclaims, to which Weaver responds, "It takes longer.")
But Kate apparently has a spare $100,000 lying around in a checking account somewhere, because she doesn't spend a moment figuring out where the money will come from. She quickly gets an interview with a potential surrogate named Angie (Poehler), whose white-trash behavior means wacky, oil-and-vinegar
hijinks between her and the professional Kate.
What follows is a largely anecdotal story, cobbled together from spit-balled ideas around a writers' table about what might be funny about pregnancy. There's the creepy, lisping earth mother who runs the natural childbirth classes, and the shopping for overpriced strollers (Kate buys the most expensive model because it has airbags), and Kate's attempts to wean Angie off her diet of junk food and onto -- ewww! -- healthy stuff from her store. All of this is modestly amusing and expertly played by Fey and Poehler, if not especially fresh.
And, naturally, there's a love interest. In the course of scouting the location for her new store, Kate meets Rob (Greg Kinnear), the owner of a smoothie emporium called Super Fruity. He's good looking and ingratiating -- after all, he's Greg Kinnear -- but his character's main quirk is that he's obsessed with an imagined competition with Jamba Juice. In fact, he mentions Jamba Juice a lot (I didn't count, but the name must be uttered at least 10 times during the film), which is either the smartest product placement ever, or the most shameless.
The main problem with Baby Mama as a whole isn't that it's a bad movie, because it's not. It's that it aims too low. As good as Fey and Poehler are -- and just the fact that they're the focus of the film makes it watchable -- the movie plays it very, very safe, going more for smiles than for laughs. While it's a smart career move for both comediennes, giving them big-screen, starring credits without taking any chances that might turn off their audience, I kept wishing that they'd taken a few more risks with the material. They hedge their bets nicely with canny casting of comics like SNL pals Fred Armisen and Will Forte in tiny blink-and-you-miss-them roles, and with Steve Martin in possibly the funniest role in the film -- his pony-tailed owner of Round Earth starts conversations with lines like, "I was swimming with the dolphins this morning in Costa Rica and I realized something." It's all entertaining enough, but it's not destined for anyone's top-ten lists.
I'm a fan of both Fey and Poehler, and I look forward to seeing how they parlay this into bigger, smarter, edgier projects. But really, a movie about a rich white woman paying a dumb, poor woman to have her baby, and they both grow a little in the process? This is the stuff of TV movies, not feature films.
At one point, Poehler is actually forced to utter the line, "I didn't like it sometimes, but you helped me grow up. I know I was supposed to help you have a baby ... but you ended up teaching me how to be a mother." I backed up the scene to watch it again, looking for any suggestion in Poehler's eyes that she knew just what a hackneyed cliché it was that she was spouting, but she delivered it with heartfelt sincerity. Which just goes to show you how very, very good Poehler is, even when the material doesn't quite match her potential.
The DVD from Universal Home Video is a double-sided affair, with a full-frame transfer on one side and the proper theatrical anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) version on the other. (The film is also available on Blu-ray.) The transfer is good, considering that the film is garishly, almost TV-quality lit, overly bright to the point of surrealism. The audio, in Dolby Digital 5.1 (with subtitles in English, Spanish and French), is fine.
Extras include a commentary track (which, interestingly, isn't listed on the DVD box) with McCullers, Michaels, Fey and Poehler. It's informative and occasionally funny, (Poehler starts by saying that the movie "is like Memento -- it all takes place backward.") There's also an alternate ending, deleted scenes, and a lightweight "making of" featurette.
Dawn Taylor doesn't have any children ... that she knows of.