Big Laughs but Troubling Morality in Baby Mama
- 2008 25 Apr
DVD Release Date: September 9, 2008
Theatrical Release Date: April 25, 2008
Rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual humor, language and a drug reference)
Run Time: 96 min.
Director: Michel McCullers
Actors: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Greg Kinnear, Dax Shepard, Romany Malco, Steve Martin, Sigourney Weaver
Motherhood is a trend and Hollywood knows it. But while maternal instincts have made a comeback, traditional views of child-rearing have not. Last year’s high-profile films in which characters decided to have their babies rather than abort them—think Knocked Up, Juno and Waitress—featured female characters who found support outside of the bonds of marriage in raising their children.
Former Saturday Night Live star and screenwriter (of Mean Girls) Tina Fey has perfected the role of a successful working woman who longs for a baby in her role as Liz Lemon on the NBC sitcom 30 Rock. Now Fey finds similar success with Baby Mama, a comedy about a company vice president who finds a way to have a child—but not the old-fashioned way. Although the means and morality aren’t traditional, the laughs are genuine and the film is hard to resist.
Fey stars as Kate Holbrook, vice president for an environmentally friendly food company looking to open a new store. Scouting an urban area on the cusp of renewal, she meets single dad Rob (Greg Kinnear), owner of a struggling smoothie store. Their budding relationship takes a back seat to Kate’s professional life and major life decision to have a baby. “I’m 37,” she frets, and so she explores her options.
The plan is put into motion in the film’s opening minutes, as we watch Kate choose a sperm donor. Photos of the donor appear on a computer monitor and are matched with Kate’s photo, producing a merged composite representing what a potential child might look like. After Kate’s pursuit fails to result in a pregnancy (“I don’t like your uterus,” a doctor informs her), she explores the option of a surrogate—someone who, for a hefty fee, will carry her fertilized egg and deliver Kate’s baby.
Angie (Amy Poehler) agrees to be Kate’s surrogate, but Carl (Dax Shepard)—her husband by common-law marriage—is more interested in trying to win radio call-in contests than he is in his wife’s well-being. The promise of a paycheck holds them together, as does a shared secret, and they go to great lengths to worm their way into Kate’s world.
But all is not well in their blue-collar paradise. When Angie catches Carl fooling around, she shows up on Kate’s doorstep in need of shelter for herself, and for Kate’s unborn child. The film derives many of its laughs from the clash of lifestyles between the down-on-her-luck Angie and the high-powered, financially secure Kate. While Kate visits bookstores, sips wine and prepares for motherhood, Angie smokes, sings along to an American Idol game and inhales Tastykakes.
Baby Mama offers no revelations about motherhood or cinematic comedy, but it pokes gentle fun at certain cultural quirks and excesses associated with modern parenting. Kids have strange names like Wingspan and Banjo, and the older woman who runs the surrogate agency keeps having children, despite suspicions that she’s well beyond her child-bearing years. Kate and Angie bond over an Extreme Vaginal Delivery DVD—not too far from the cable shows that entertain our birth-obsessed culture. Priceless cameos by Steve Martin and Sigourney Weaver make the film even more enjoyable, as does a supporting performance by Romany Malco as the doorman at Kate’s apartment.
The knowing laughs are offset somewhat by the cultural milieu of single parenthood, which is never questioned, but rather encouraged. At one point, Rob says to Kate—with no humorous intent—“You don’t have to be married to have a kid.” No, but not all single moms have the income of Kate, nor do they take easy comfort, as she does, in the idea that a good (and expensive) nanny help will raise their child. A brief coda catching up with the characters at a future birthday party does nothing to present the hard realities of raising a child without a spouse—Waitress has a similarly rosy denouement—but if these films got serious, they wouldn’t be comedies. They would be much closer to tragedies.
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- Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain; some foul language; racially charged language; multiple references to female and male body parts; discussion of kids who have two mommies.
- Drugs/Alcohol: Box of cigarettes is shown, and reference is made to smoking while pregnant; scene at a club; drinking of wine.
- Sex/Nudity: Woman visits a fertility center and leaves with a canister; discussion of adultery; a scene of “grinding” on the dance floor; a woman relieves herself in a bathroom sink; a couple goes back to an apartment and is shown fixing breakfast together the next morning.
- Violence: Vandalism.
- Religion: A Methodist couple chooses a Wiccan as its surrogate and later speaks about the “pagan birth.”