April 28, 2008

Ain’t No Drama in Baby Mama

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As a huge fan of 30 Rock, Saturday Night Live and Mean Girls — basically anything that involves Tina Fey — I was looking forward to seeing Fey’s latest film Baby Mama. To heighten my anticipation, the film’s two-minute trailer was promisingly suggestive of hearty belly-laughs and sharp satirical humor. Sadly, by the end of this film, I was left longing for 30 Rock’s infinitely better satire about the advantaged and self-involved. Baby Mama is an utterly predictable, if inoffensive, film that offers a few quiet chuckles but never delivers on its promise.
Baby Mama stars Tina Fey as Kate Holbrook, an upper-middle-class executive whom — after years of choosing her career over starting a family — finally wants to have a baby. However, her child-rearing plans are thrown for a loop when doctors inform her that, as a 37 year-old, she has a million-to-one chance at getting pregnant. Undaunted by this news, Kate turns to surrogacy-mother broker Chaffee Bicknell (Sigourney Weaver) to find, as the film’s tagline states, “someone to put her eggs in.” That someone is Angie Ostrowiski (Amy Poehler), a hard-edged, southern Philly working girl who is more than willing to rent out her womb to Kate.
Problem solved, right? On the contrary, Kate’s seemingly well-organized plan becomes increasingly chaotic when baby mama Angie splits with her common-law husband Carl (Dax Shepard) and has no place to live. Forced to live with each other, sterile Kate attempts to find ways to turn the frenzied Angie into a tranquil motherly figure. This clash of lifestyles is where Baby Mama spends most of it time, as odd-couple confrontations and particularly abnormal pregnancy complications ensue for the remainder of the film.
While this film follows the latest pregnancy comedy trend in subject matter, I was taken aback by the absence of the laugh-out-loud humor that has come to be expected from this genre. This anomalous scenario of Fey and Poehler’s characters living under the same roof could have provided for the makings of an uproarious comedy like Knocked Up. Moreover, because there are numerous women in Kate’s position today, the film could have been relatable like Juno. Unfortunately, this film is neither hilarious nor relevant, as writer and director Michael McCullers buries the laughs by incorporating pointless — and way too banal — plot twists into his already glacially-paced script.
The bigger tragedy is that McCullers doesn’t know how to properly showcase Fey and Pochler’s small-screen chemistry onto the big screen. Both try their very best to save the film’s shoddy writing and perfectly complement each other, and Fey’s performance is as sophisticated as Poehler’s is boisterous. Each do a fine job at keeping their characters grounded in reality, avoiding what very easily could have become caricature performances.
Unfortunately for them, their adept performances are overshadowed by the forced and cartoonish performances surrounding them. Shepard’s performance as Angie’s boyfriend Carl is too absurdly overblown to be amusing, as is Romany Malco’s performance as Oscar, the jive-talking doorman (even though he does offer one terrific line relating childbirth to DMX). Even Greg Kinnear’s performance as Rob, Kate’s love-interest, came off as tiresome and bland.
However, in spite of these lackluster performances, Baby Mama did have a few redeeming qualities. Baby Mama was spot on with its parodies of the typical upper-middle-class child-rearing philosophy; the film’s quips about Yuppies overprotecting their children with air-bag equipped strollers and naming children “Stefani” (after Gwen) or “Wingspan” are some of the film’s brightest moments. Additionally, both Steve Martin and Sigourney Weaver’s performances as earth-loving executive and surrogate-broker alike — were wonderfully dignified.
The bottom line is that those looking for the next Knocked Up or Juno will be sorely disappointed. This film is certainly not reliant on side-splitting one-liners, nor is it the type of movie I expected it to be. Instead, Baby Mama relies on its story line and delivery, which are the main reasons why it failed to meet my expectations. Sure, Baby Mama saunters along with a few modest charms and sporadically glimmers due to wonderful performances by its main stars. But in the end, this film was just too predictable. As doorman Oscar said to Kate in the film’s climax, “you got Baby Mama drama.” If only there was any, Oscar. If only.