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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Baby Mama (review)

Indigestation

Baby Mama? Really? That’s where we’re going with this? We’re turning supposedly grown women into juvenile idiots like we’ve been doing with supposedly grown men of late? Why don’t we just call it Knocked Up and be done with it?

Oh.
Look: Babies are great. Sex is great. Messy and ridiculous and laughable — babies and sex — but great. So why don’t we get movies like that, that acknowledge the deeply weird wonderfulness of all this chaotic and confusing and hilarious life stuff? Why do we get movies, these days, about ostensible grownups dealing with ostensibly grownup things — like sex and babies and stuff — that treat their characters like they deserved to be snickered at and their audiences like they’re children whose only possible reaction to matters of sex and babies and stuff is to snicker? Are there any adults anywhere today?

I expected more from Tina Fey, who at least seems like a grownup, yet here lets herself be treated like she’s not worthy of respect we’d accord a dog. Her Kate Holbrook is a successful professional who, at the age of 37, decides she’s going to stop waiting for the right man to come along so that she can have a baby and just go it alone. Which would be fine, if the movie made any pretense at all, even in a farcical way, to understanding how complicated women’s lives can be today, how tough it is for those of us who decide we want to juggle a career and a family, how ridiculous it is to be a woman trying to have it all. How you might even just want to laugh at the absurd nonsense that passes for feminism (like this movie) these days.

Why bother to do that when you can hire a man — here, writer-director Michael McCullers, a Saturday Night Live writer who’s never directed anything before — to crack gynecological jokes and reduce that apparently smart, competent woman to the level of a simpering child? Oh, and she’s a child who is, conversely, too weirdly, twistedly old to seriously believe she could carry a child in her weird, twisted old womb. (“I just don’t like your uterus,” John Hodgeman’s OB-GYN tells her, and he’s funny about it. I want to see a movie where a woman says something to a man like, “I just don’t like your dick,” and she’s seen as humorous, and not a witchy, bitchy villain.) Kate defends her decision to go with a surrogate mother to her own mother thusly: “Being single is not an alternative lifestyle.” “It is when you’re 37,” her mother (Holland Taylor: The Wedding Date, Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over) replies, which is, on the surface, supposed to be a joke, something that shows off the mom as old-fashioned and out of touch with the modern world… except the rest of the movie appears to be on the mom’s side. Who is this freaky strange old woman who wants to have a baby, anyway?

But hey, what do I know? I’m only a 38-year-old childless dried-up old prune of a hag myself. I’m probably just bitter. And also a lesbian. And most likely some kind of communist.

And it’s not like Kate hires Juno to carry her baby: she hires white-trashy Angie Ostrowiski… who’s played by Amy Poehler (Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!, Shrek the Third)… who is all of 16 months younger than Tina Fey. And let’s not even get started on the exploitation of poor women that is the for-pay surrogacy industry. Or, okay, let’s, at least as it concerns would-be pregnancy farces: If you were a smart woman paying $100,000 to another woman to carry your child, wouldn’t you ensure there was something in the contract about, oh, not smoking and not eating junk food?

Oh, but it wouldn’t be “funny” if the white-trash surrogate wasn’t sneaking smokes and Dr. Pepper on the side. Cuz god knows there’s nothing else funny that could be mined from such a scenario… at least, nothing funny that doesn’t require an IQ over 75 to come up with…

Even on its own sorry terms, Baby Mama is ludicrous, falling back on toilet humor because it has nothing else to offer. (“I’m sorry I called you stupid,” Kate tells Angie. “I’m sorry I farted into your purse,” Angie relies. Really? Are you kidding me?) And falling back on making fun of what it is itself supposedly celebrating: Why does Siobhan Fallon Hogan’s (Charlotte’s Web, Fever Pitch) new-agey birthing coach come complete with lisp (which supposedly somehow connotes emotional sensitivity as absurd)? If Baby Mama wants to pretend it’s all about the human experience of nurturing a baby in the womb and giving it a good start in life — which is what Fey’s character is, allegedly, all about — then why is it making fun of getting in touch with that?

Baby Mama is bizarre — “I knew I was supposed to have a baby” Angie tells Kate at the faux sentimental ending, “but you taught me how to be a mother,” for which there is no evidence whatsoever. It is atrociously written: the first act (that is, the setup after which there needs to be some twist) is 50 minutes long (30 is about as long as a 95-minute film can tolerate). It absolutely wastes Greg Kinnear (Invincible, Little Miss Sunshine) as Fey’s new love interest… and if you can’t follow where that subplot is going, you deserve this movie as it is.


MPAA: rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, language and a drug reference

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
  • Great review! As a fan of Tina Fey myself, I am disappointed that this film sucks.

    Maybe if Tina wrote it? lol. Baby Mama….yikes.

  • I haven’t seen this movie yet (dvd only, I’m afraid), but I don’t think it’s aimed at people who have kids from actual sex, no, I think it’s for the infertiles in the world.

  • Sorry, posted too early. What fertile people don’t see is what infertiles have to go through just to *try* to have a baby, there’s no actual guarantee that one will get pregnant, nevermind have a live birth. Anyway, the long trailer that was released a month ago is hilarious, I hope it’s not the highlight of the flick!

  • Shadowen

    ‘“I just don’t like your uterus,” John Hodgeman’s OB-GYN tells her, and he’s funny about it. I want to see a movie where a woman says something to a man like, “I just don’t like your dick,” and she’s seen as humorous, and not a witchy, bitchy villain.’

    Oh, come on! Could you miss the point any more if you tried?

    Clearly, she would have to say, “I just don’t like your testicles.”

  • Signal30

    Yeah, it was pretty much a mess, but I found myself laughing fairly often through the flick. That just doesn’t happen much anymore. Haven’t seen a comedy that actually was funny since Shaun of the Dead, and how many years ago was that?

    Maybe because it was sorta like Knocked Up… but with jokes. Or it was just a cartoon, so I didn’t require any sort of logic from it.

    Or maybe I was mesmerized by Tina Fey’s legs. They’re great legs, and they get the star treatment in almost every scene. One character even calls them “sweet-assed legs”. And so they are.

    But only a few hours after seeing it, I can’t remember anything about it that made me laugh, just that it did. It’s not good, but to me it was good enough. Hopefully it’ll do decent box office that Fey gets more leads. Aside for the bit role in Mean Girls, I haven’t seen her in anything, but I found her immensely likable.

    And hey… great legs.

  • MaryAnn

    I think it’s for the infertiles in the world.

    If I were infertile and trying to have a baby some other way, this movie would depress me even more than it does now.

  • MBI

    “But only a few hours after seeing it, I can’t remember anything about it that made me laugh, just that it did.”

    I’ll echo this statement — I laughed throughout, but I don’t remember at what exactly.

    “It absolutely wastes Greg Kinnear as Fey’s new love interest… and if you can’t follow where that subplot is going, you deserve this movie as it is.”

    I honestly didn’t see it coming, although I had enough good sense to be insulted by it. My date saw it coming a mile away.

    I don’t agree with a lot of your comments about how insulting this movie is. Thirty-seven IS, in fact, considered “advanced maternal age” by medical doctors and such, so you can take it up with them, although of course it’s increasingly less uncommon to have babies later in life. I don’t think see how the women were reduced to being children. (Well… Fey’s character at least. Poehler had a few sincere moments in the middle that made me think she was going to salvage the character.)

    The joke about the doctor is that he’s a dick for saying the uterus thing. I do see your logic behind the mom’s wisecrack thing though.

    “Baby Mama is bizarre — “I knew I was supposed to have a baby” Angie tells Kate at the faux sentimental ending, “but you taught me how to be a mother,” for which there is no evidence whatsoever.”

    That was the point where I realized I had been completely duped, and that what I thought was a quality movie was just Tina Fey writing good jokes around what was a completely awful movie. The movie forgets about the supposed baby completely, it doesn’t explain Fey’s desire for a baby (especially without a father figure in her life, which is not cool). The ending outright hurts, as does the big reveal scene at the baby shower — actually, no, THAT was the moment where I realized I’d been duped.

  • MaryAnn

    I don’t agree with a lot of your comments about how insulting this movie is. Thirty-seven IS, in fact, considered “advanced maternal age” by medical doctors and such, so you can take it up with them, although of course it’s increasingly less uncommon to have babies later in life.

    I didn’t say it wasn’t! In fact, I pointed out the ridiculousness of hiring a surrogate mother who is also in her late 30s! It’s the movie, not me, that’s screwed up about the facts of maternity, not me.

  • WriterGuy

    Holy crap, you’re a lesbian?!

  • amanohyo

    That’s not the worst of it. My cousin saw her holding hands with a Time Lord once… she was quoting Chairman Mao and smiling . Scandalous!

  • Bri

    It would have ben more fun if the characters had been lesbians… or more exactly bisexuals. But of course the box office money wouldn’t have poured in at all.

    The movie was okay… but it was not GREAT. Greatness demands some courage.

  • MaryAnn

    Holy crap, you’re a lesbian?!

    Whatever turns ya on, WriterGuy.

  • Mike

    I hate that I stubled upon this review….

    My expert critical analysis of this fine film = Saturday Night Live (what the hell do you expect?)

    “Why do we get movies, these days, about ostensible grownups dealing with ostensibly grownup things — like sex and babies and stuff — that treat their characters like they deserved to be snickered at and their audiences like they’re children whose only possible reaction to matters of sex and babies and stuff is to snicker? Are there any adults anywhere today?”

    If we wanted real life, why would we pay $8.00 to watch our own lives on the big screen when all of us could stay at home and suffer for free. Are there any adults that remember what it was like to laugh without caution or thought? Are there any adults that remember how to enjoy themselves without acting as “adults”? Are there any adults intelligent enough to write a review or comment on a movie that has the sole purpose of making us laugh without causing said adult to be profound and compare a complete spoof to real life.

    Expert critical analysis part deaux….

    Hi my name is Baby Mama! I am not intended to mirror real life. If so, I would not be a comedy. Please don’t judge me as such. Just enjoy me for what I am without sipping your double mocha and stroking your cat because you are not doing me any favors. As a matter a fact, just stop talking about me. I am sorry that I farted in your purse!

  • amanohyo

    Mike, take some deep breaths and open a rottentomatoes window for a sec. One look at the top five movies this week (or almost any week) should tell you that pleeeenty of adults remember what it’s like to release their inner giggling teenager and laugh without thinking.

    I know seeing this one negative review has shaken you to the core, but never fear, your precious world of juvenille, heteronormative, emotionally shallow, short-attention-span comedy is still safe and sound. In fact, the rapid expansion of that world is what MA was complaining about in the review.

    So chin up soldier, your side is winning this culture war handily. There’s no need to make desperate incursions into enemy territory just yet.

  • Mike

    ….thus giving the depth of society reasons to complain. I must keep fighting the good fight!

  • Mike

    One more comment on your response.

    Most of us have enough emotion, that takes plenty of attention, saturating their lives on a daily basis. A movie is an escape.

    The fact that non-heteronormative types seek emotionally fulfilling movies that require a long attention span only tells me that there is something missing in their life.

    If you live it, you don’t feel the need to search for it.

    And the fact that people can laugh and let go is not juvenile or shallow. It is healthy. If I spent as much time in my ivory tower as it appears you do, I would probably get bored and search for answers through film as well.

    Come down from your high horse and join the masses. Finding answers and meaning in movies is shallow.

    By heteronormative…. do you mean people that are able to laugh at something that the heteroelite finds stupid or juvenile.

    Big words are not depth my friend. You can talk the game but I have a feeling that is the extent of it.

    In conclusion…..

    You might not be as unique and unbelievable as I think you think you are.

  • MaryAnn

    Mike, if you have nothing to contribute to the discussion, please leave. Disgareement is fine, and welcome. But obviously there is nothing here for you, so please stop wasting all our time.

    I will say, though, that it’s curious that you assume that someone doesn’t laugh at all because they don’t laugh at the same things you laugh at.

  • Mike

    Ok…say no more.

    “I will say, though, that it’s curious that you assume that someone doesn’t laugh at all because they don’t laugh at the same things you laugh at.”

    I laugh at everything. At some point we are bound to laugh at the same thing. It’s been fun. Take care.

  • Mathias

    “I just don’t like your uterus,” John Hodgeman’s OB-GYN tells her, and he’s funny about it. I want to see a movie where a woman says something to a man like, “I just don’t like your dick,” and she’s seen as humorous, and not a witchy, bitchy villain.”

    Wouldn’t a doctor say something more like:

    “I just don’t like your sperm.”? Or:
    “I just don’t like your urethra.”?

    A dick is just a semen delivery system.
    It’s condition has nothing to do with fertility.

    Which is why you’ll never see a doctor (much less a female doctor) saying any such thing. ;)

  • Mathias

    At least this movie has 2 female leads:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/04/movies/moviesspecial/04dargi.html?_r=2&ref=movies&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

    Read this article and thought of what you think.

  • MaryAnn

    There are lots of women in porn, too, but that doesn’t make it feminist.

  • “I just don’t like your uterus” is kinda amusing, mostly because we don’t expect any doctor to speak like that.

    But it’s not even in the same ballpark as Nicolas Cage’s classic line from Raising Arizona: “Edwina’s insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase.”, with a doctor using a pen to point at a 1950’s-era high school anatomy diagram of the female reproductive system on a white card.

  • MaryAnn

    Bingo. Same idea, wildly different approaches, and one works while the other doesn’t… while also managing to be vaguely misogynist.

  • Henry

    Thank you for hating this movie as much as I did, for the same reasons. It’s nice to know that somebody else on earth gets it.

    Who is to blame for this whole idea that women are inherently ridiculous? Is it patriarchy, or the women like Fey and Holbrook who agree to make films like this?

  • Ron G

    “Same idea, wildly different approaches, and one works while the other doesn’t… while also managing to be vaguely misogynist.”

    Uh… isn’t that the joke, exactly? That her jerk doctor is insulting her to face without realizing it? That’s like saying that the abuses Ben Stiller absorbs on a daily basis is anti-male. I’m not saying it’s a hilarious joke or anything, but I think you’re being oversensitive.

  • MaryAnn

    But the movie seems to nod somewhat approvingly at his insult. That’s the difference. Of course characters can behave in all sorts of bad ways that aren’t necessarily offensive: it’s how a movie looks upon those characters that determines whether it works or not. I mean, here, is there honestly any purpose at all to that line except denigrating a woman character who is supposed to be the protagonist we’re meant to identify and sympathize with? It’s not like the doctor suffers any for his insult. It’s just a cheap swipe at her.

  • Ron G

    Well, I mean… is denigrating her stopping us from identifying and sympathizing with her? I certainly don’t think the joke is “Ha ha stupid woman with her crappy uterus.” I think it’s more like “Ha ha what a completely inappropriate thing to say,” like the “It makes my boyfriend’s junk smell like pie” girl from Juno.

    Or it might be something like “Ha ha she got her feelings hurt,” which… okay, yeah, maybe I can see where you’re coming from here. But seriously, you’ve never laughed at something like that? And besides which, I still wouldn’t be comfortable trotting out the m-word — I don’t think it’s a female-specific joke, you mentioned the “I don’t like your dick” joke as something you’re never going to see but it seems entirely plausible to me. Can’t you just imagine Ben Stiller getting hit with something like that? I totally can.

    By the way, have you even seen “30 Rock”? Best show on TV. Only reason I let myself get dragged to this dumb chick flick.

  • MaryAnn

    Can’t you just imagine Ben Stiller getting hit with something like that?

    Thank you for making my point. Yes, Ben Stiller gets humiliated all the time on film. And I don’t find that funny either. I find it pointlessly mean-spirited.

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