Baby Mama (review)


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?

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.

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