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Non-Review Review: Baby Mama

Baby Mama is effectively a “buddy” chick flick. Indeed, considering that the bulk of buddy guy flicks – like Lethal Weapon or The Expendables – are about guys doing stereotypically “macho” stuff (grrr… explosions and guns and fights and stuff!!!), it’s perhaps appropriate that this movie pairs off its two leads doing something stereotypically “feminine” (awww…. babies and maternal instincts and things…). The premise and the message of the movie are difficult to get a hold of (it by turns mocks and reinforces a conventional liberal perspective, particularly in its portrayal of class conflicts), but works at its best when it lets its two tremendously talented leads time and room to work – there’s a reason that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are competing against each other for that Emmy this year. Despite its fairly heavy subject matter, the movie arguably finds its feet as a conventional “odd couple” comedy – which is a shame, as that’s only one of many things it’s juggling.

Guess which one's white trash...

The plot sees an upper-middle class profession woman who has skilfully navigated to the peak of her career (which, it seems – in one of the movie’s many contradictory observations – is to be a glorified right-hand woman to rich, successful and untalented nutjob) finally “come out of the baby closet” and admit that she wants to start a family. Unfortunately she discovers she’s infertile, and has to hire a surrogate, who turns out to be – in the movie’s delicate way of phrasing it – “white trash”.

That first part of the description feels like heavy subject matter – and it’s actually treated quite well be the script. “You don’t have to be married to have a child,” on character observes in a wonderfully open-minded sentiment which really needs to be expressed more often. Indeed, the movie as a whole is dedicated to celebrating unconventional family units, which is great – it’s nice to see a movie go there. Diversity is something we very rarely see, except for token gestures.

Unfortunately, the movie suffers from two major problems. The first is that it lacks the courage of its own convictions. The movie seems to start of lauding its protagonist’s decision to “go it alone” as it were. Indeed, there’s no male influence for the first forty-five minutes of the film. Somewhere around the halfway point, the film’s integrity starts to falter. A strong male influence – a boyfriend, in fact – presents himself and a courtship ensues. Apparently while you don’t have to be married to have a kid, it helps to be in a relationship. At one point, the movie actually makes the male character more important than the child. Our plucky lead must decide whether or not to tell her lover about her less-than-conventional method of having a baby – and she’s terrified of rejection. If he can’t handle it, kick his ass to the curb – if he doesn’t love you or respect you enough to respect your decisions, then he isn’t worth your time. Besides, you want to be a mother, not a girlfriend/partner/wife or whatever the politically correct terminology is.

Milking it...

The second major flaw is that the movie seems ridiculously snide and condescending. When our middle-class lead and her lower-class surrogate mother move in together, social commentary is expected. However, it’s rather lobsided. Our lead endures jokes about her diet of anti-oxident all-organic wholesome produce (argh! that’s completely unfair!) while the jokes concerning our lower-class character mostly revolve around the fact that she’s stupid. In fact, the movie only really insists that one of them needs to compromise (go on! guess which one!) rather than adopting the more conventional approach that they can learn from each other. In fact, it’s our lead’s solemn duty to improve her young ward, because god knows she can’t do it herself (the character is described fairly frequently as “white trash” and at one point compared to a child incapable of caring for herself – and I really wish that represented a parody of a liberal perspective).

That said, the film gets away with a lot due to the fact that it’s actually quite funny. In fact, the sequences which focus on the awkward dynamic of Fey and Poehler arguably get away with a lot more than the “socially relevent” portions of the film. The two are ridiculously talented on their own, but just have great chemistry. I won’t pretend this represents the best work of either actress (you can see that weekly on television), but they do work well together. Very well together.

The jokes are fairly hit-or-miss (as an example, Steve Martin’s supporting role seems like an excuse to add his name to the credits, while Sigourney Weaver is downright hilarious as the somewhat shady mastermind of the surrogates scheme), but the ratio is high enough to keep the audience engaged. Ironically for a film with such possibly controversial subject matter, the movie itself is decidedly conservative. The ending borders on ridiculous contrivance (sidestepping all of the issues that the film raised), and the dramatic beats leading up to that sequence weren’t much better. At any given moments you can use your watch to calculate the minutes until a catastrophic misunderstanding or conflict – base dpurely on how many minutes are left.

All-in-all, it’s an entertaining film – and probably one it’s best not to think too much about. The talent of the two leads pretty much make up for any flaws the movie has, but it never quite seems like a “must watch” film. It’s just reasonably diverting. Both of the actors could probably be doing something far more substantial, but this is just about coog enough for now.

2 Responses

  1. You sum it up well in that it was more diverting than anything else. I went to see it on a rainy day and it pleasantly passed the time. However, 2 years later, I can remember all of about two scenes of the movie. Entertaining, but entirely forgettable.

  2. I can’t even remember who the male lead was. As Olive said entertaining while it lasted, leaves nothing behind afterward.

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