Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Baby Mama, Starring Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Greg Kinnear, Written and Directed by Michael McCullers, Broadway Video, 2008

(*Note: If you go to the poll that I recently conducted, you will see that Owly won the voting with five votes for Baby Mama's four. Unfortunately, when I started writing the review on Wednesday morning, Baby Mama was tied with Owly at four votes a piece, only I myself voted once for Owly to test the system. Thus, at the time I considered it, Baby Mama actually had one more vote. You are a strange lot of people.)

Writer/director Michael McCullers has done better work. His 2002 screenplay (with idea originator John Ridley) for Undercover Brother is a solid send-up/romp of blaxploitation films of the seventies. Eddie Griffin was smoothly, archly hilarious in the title role and Dave Chappelle brought an unmatched comic insanity to his part as Conspiracy Brother.

Writer/director Michael McCullers has also done worse. His two sequels to the original Austin Powers were proof that a decent refractory period is necessary for older males to keep from delivering something limp.

The problem, I suspect, lies in being a writer for Saturday Night Live. If there is one show with a longer history of erratic delivery I have yet to hear of it. Tuning in, more often than not of late, is an excruciating experience, but every so often they pull something completely out of the hat prompting the inevitable internet buzz that "Saturday Night Live's funny again!"

Lather, rinse, repeat.

The 2008 offering from this poster child for NBC's bipolar comedy empire, Baby Mama, was much less than I'd been expecting. The years Tina Fey helmed SNL's "Weekend Update," I frequently stopped what I was doing at around 12:15 just to watch, then went back to ignoring the show. Fey's ensemble series, 30 Rock, has been a constant, always laugh-out-loud treat with absurdist riffs, razor sharp satire, and a stellar cast (including Alec Baldwin who continues to be amazingly, surprisingly funny and Tracy Morgan whose schtick can get predictable, but when he's given solid lines is untouchable).

That's what I came into the movie expecting.

Instead, what we are given is a by-the-numbers comedy. As was often the case on SNL skits, the routinely unfunny Amy Poehler is the comic foil to Fey. Brought in as the crass, white trash surrogate mom for Fey's overachieving but functionally sterile career woman (a comic pairing mirrored with 30 Rock's Jenna Maroney, Fey's starfucking former star), the two get some mileage out of their clash of personalities. But not much.

Most of the bits prior to Fey's Kate Holbrook committing to having her baby with Poehler's Angie Ostrowiski don't emphasize enough Kate's desperation to have a baby. We find ourselves wondering why such a go-getting business exec would choose such an unpromising person for such a pricey operation as in vitro fertilization. Nor is it clear how such a top dollar organization as the one she applies through would ever greenlight Poehler's clearly idiotic character.

It's said that if you analyze comedy, try to find out why it's funny, you kill it. And a great deal of comedy hinges on unexpectedness or the unlikely scenario. But would it have hurt the writer to hide some of Ostrowiski's idiocy (including her uber-PWT boyfriend, Carl) until later? Then we'd have the shock of the reveal instead of the wondering of why.

So, mismatched-pair/buddy comedy. You can see exactly where everything in this movie is going by the time you've gotten through the first few opening scenes. Fey's Kate works for Jamba Juice, a smoothie company headed by Steve Martin in a ponytail. The easy jokes about sixties era consciousness-raising ex-hippies fall like rain whenever he's on the set. When Kate prowls an urban neighborhood seeking out a location for a new franchise, she happens into a locally owned and operated independent smoothie joint run by Rob Ackerman (Greg Kinnear, who will, for me, always be the Talk Soup guy).

Can you guess what will happen in a comedy when two attractive, similarly aged characters are thrown together as opposites-attract rivals?

Yes, yes, you can. From the moment I recognized Kinnear I knew that no matter what problems Kate had in conceiving, no matter what troubles she has with her surrogate Angie, by film's end not only would Ackerman bed this high-strung corporate filly but he'd knock her up as well.

While Baby Mama has its funny moments and its straining to be touching moments, a few scenes from the film remain lodged nicely in my memory. Most effecting is the scene when Kate and Angie finally have their blow up in Kate's car. "You think you're better than me," Poehler huffs. With a nicely delivered, "I. Know. I'm better than you," Fey makes her character's barely concealed rage all too evident. A film made of such moments would be entertainment in the best possible sense of the world.

Until that comes along, I'm sure you can catch Baby Mama on cable some night soon or at least rent it for free from the library. There's no earthly reason I could give you to actually spend money to see this film, but seen at no cost to you save the time, it offends not, but, alas, it does not illuminate the screen.

1 comment:

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