I am back from a long weekend in Baltimore. Sorry about the absence. But I did manage to catch a new movie with the wife last night.
Walking out of the new Tina Fey/Amy Poehler movie, Baby Mama, I found myself oddly refreshed. Oddly, because Baby Mama is an astoundingly formulaic comedy/romance/buddy pic, with subpar direction and cuts made with rusted scissors. Refreshed, because it was so nice to see a movie that made its comedic choices based not on their cringe factor, but on their service to character development and to the overarching storyline. It certainly did not hurt matters that Baby Mama has imminently likable leads in Fey and Poehler and a supporting cast that ranges from good to absolutely hilarious.
Baby Mama centers around Tina Fey’s character and her struggles between career success (she is a VP for a Whole Foods-type store) and motherhood, only now that she is ready for motherhood she cannot have a baby. There is a montage of scenes explaining why she cannot get pregnant (her uterus is shaped like a ‘T’) and cannot adopt. Surrogacy is the only option. Enter Amy Poehler’s character. I will save the various (and obvious) plot twists and turns for you to discover on your own.
Many of the laughs in Baby Mama come from the leads, but many more come from the supporting cast with the leads playing the straights. This is not remarkable for comedies, but what Baby Mama does well within this scheme is actually develop those supporting characters, which in turn makes the jokes have more heart. Most comedies today put a bunch of funny people on camera and tell them to riff. Sometimes the result is fall down funny, most of the time the audience waits politely for it to end, and regardless of how funny the scene was, it rarely serves the larger picture (see Forgetting Sarah Marshall). Baby Mama never gets huge laughs, but gets solid laughs consistently, and makes you care about at least a half dozen characters.
The best of the supporting cast are, without question, Steve Martin and Sigourney Weaver. I give Weaver’s character the nod for her portrayal of the head of the surrogacy company (and the world’s oldest natural mother). Martin plays the CEO of the organic supermarket chain where Tina Fey’s character works. HIs behavior is absurd and over-the-top and I loved it. I used to work at a Whole Food’s and have actually met the CEO, and finding that man to be…how to put this nicely…insincere, I smiled every time Martin came on the screen. Other supporting actors of note were Dax Shephard as Amy Poehler’s white trash, common law husband, Greg Kinnear as Tina Fey’s love interest (it was nice to see a woman and a man of equal attractiveness paired as love interests; my apologies to every male-centered sitcom and Judd Apatow films), and Romany Malco (I would love to see this guy get a starring vehicle) who ran things around Fey’s apartment building (he also has another purpose in the film that the director completely screwed up at the end).
Ultimately, I would definitely recommend this film. I wish it had been helmed by someone with better directing instincts (Michael McCullers wrote and directed–he is good at one of these things) because a few changes could have made a world of difference, but the comedic brilliance of the whole acting crew won the day.
The review is over at this point, but I must do an aside/tangent on Tina Fey. I really like Amy Poehler. She is very good in this film. She has been almost the only person worth watching on SNL the last few years, and she is reportedly a brilliant improv actor. But I cannot get enough of Tina Fey. 30 Rock is the funniest and smartest show on the air, bar none. She was great on SNL; she probably kept the show alive. And Mean Girls is one of the best of the recent teen comedies. I went into Baby Mama thinking this was going to be her first failure, but she proved me wrong. She should be placed out front in Hollywood as an exemplar for all men and women getting into the business. Really, it is okay to be smart, funny, good at your craft, and regular people attractive.