Universal // 2008 // 99 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // September 9th, 2008
Would you put your eggs...in this basket???
Many of you probably didn't notice, but right before Mother's Day there were two films celebrating motherhood: Then She Found Me and Baby Mama. The former marked the directorial debut of Helen Hunt, and the latter marked the teaming of SNL alumni Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Aside from their timely release, there were some unusual similarities between the two; the major difference being Baby Mama was more concerned with slapstick and outrageous humor than its more thoughtful, independent rival. Question is, was the studio effort equally good?
Meet Kate Holbrook (Tina Fey, screenwriter of Mean Girls). She's successful, intelligent, healthy, and still looks dynamite at age 37. Trouble is, her biological clock is ticking with a capital T, which also happens to be the size of her uterus, preventing her from conceiving a baby! What is she to do? Adopt? Nah, takes too long. How about hiring a surrogate mother?
Meet Angie Ostrowski (Amy Poehler, Blades Of Glory). She's smokin' hot trailer trash, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who always smokes and eats junk food. She's also foul and messy which terrifies Kate. Can she make Angie change for the better, while her belly gets bigger? (Take a wild guess.)
I saw Baby Mama in the theater. While I was somewhat entertained, it seemed like so many opportunities were lost. Here we have two talented, exceptionally trained comediennes working with a mediocre script screaming of sitcom fluff. Most of the jokes are cheap, lame, and foreshadowed far too early. The "be-a-good-mother" message is obvious to the Nth degree, and the story bears no semblance to reality whatsoever. In the end, this ends up being a slapdash excursion, offering up an alarmingly high number of crude jokes, while trying to be sweet and frothy at the same time!
With Then She Found Me, Helen Hunt got it right, providing many observations that are both comic and poignant. Writer-director Michael McCullers fails in terms of comedy and drama, depending more on desperation and contrivances. A perfect example is the gag involving Fey locking up her toilet. This device is so blatantly used just to have Poehler -- predictably -- do something unusual. Funnily enough, Dustin Hoffman only mentioned the same act out of nowhere in Tootsie and it was hilarious without showing it.
I don't mind exaggeration in modern day comedies. However, Baby Mama pushes believability way too far; so much so it forgets to breathe. Kate's early acceptance of Angie as her surrogate mother made me shake my head in disbelief. Their supposed bonding in a downtown club is painfully over-the-top, and the final moments in the courtroom are just downright stupid. The outlandish supporting characters seem to have all come from other weird comedies of yesteryear, and I'm pointing specifically at Steve Martin (as Fey's new-age boss) and Sigourney Weaver (as the always-pregnant head of the surrogate agency). Here again, in the words of Daniel Von Bargen from Super Troopers, "desperation is a stinky cologne."
Truthfully, I'm not writing off Baby Mama as a bad chick flick. I just wish McCullers had some other agenda laid out rather than a tried-and-true formula relying on class differences to garner laughs. Women sacrificing advancement in favor of motherhood is an extremely relevant issue today, and it would have been more interesting to explore. As far as the biological clock is concerned, McCullers' male point of view might have gotten in the way of a realistic examination. Amy Heckerling nailed it in Look Who's Talking, as did Helen Hunt in Then She Found Me; both were also funny without alluding to male body parts in almost every scene.
Story issues aside, Fey and Poehler together make this movie palatable. Their characters may hinge on stereotype, but they remain compulsively watchable and irresistible from beginning to end. In particular, Poehler (reminiscnet of a young Beverly D'Angelo) is full of sassy, sock hop appeal, though Fey is no slouch with the straight role. I can't go so far as agreeing with USA Today in that they are "the best female comedy duo since Lucy and Ethel," but they do make winning team, turning a potential comedy train wreck into something more than tolerable.
Universal has done a terrific job with their release of Baby Mama on DVD. The print is clean, with warm colors and solid black levels; not stylish but presentable. Three 5.1 Surround tracks are available in English, French, and Spanish, including optional subtitles in all those languages. A nice score, courtesy of Jeff Richmond, makes good use of songs ranging from "Endless Love" to "The Lady in Red."
My praise for the studio continues with the bonus features. First up is a highly enjoyable commentary track with Fey, Poehler, McCullers and co-producer Lorne Michaels. While the foursome occasionally steer off on unnecessary topics (who cares what Robin Williams did on Law & Order recently?), their discussion has a balanced amount of joking around and information regarding the shoot. Other extras include an alternate ending, some deleted scenes, and a brief SNL featurette. The one hiccup is the standard promotional featurette containing interviews with cast and crew.
Women will no doubt be more forgiving to Baby Mama than men, but I still recommend renting Then She Found Me instead.
Fey and Poehler are free to go, Universal is given a commendation for a solid DVD package, and the film is guilty of being clichéd and forgettable. Court is adjourned.
Review content copyright © 2008 Christopher Kulik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Audio Commentary
* Alternate Ending
* Deleted Scenes
* "Saturday Night Live: Legacy of Laughter"
* "From Conception to Delivery"