Sunday, September 14, 2008

Baby Mama (2008)

’Outsourcing 101’

In one of Baby Mama’s earliest scenes Kate (Tina Fey) commits the cardinal rule of dating: never come on too desperate. After confessing how badly she wants a baby, Kate calmly watches as her date bolts into an awaiting taxi then tells the waiter that she’ll have her food ‘to go’. Kate is a late-thirties success story that is incomplete in her own view by the fact that she hasn’t yet mothered a child. It reaches a point where in a boardroom meeting all the men look like babies in diapers. While director Michael McCullers (co-writer of the Austin Powers films) hits a smart point with that image, the extent of his innovation unfortunately ends there.

The film’s opening sets up nicely a mélange of issues dealing with single women trying to get pregnant. Its difficulty though is that it tries too hard to find duality in a role that is heavily monochromatic. Kate recognizes the futility of her task and even accepts that others do not feel as zealous as she does…indeed the calmness she has when her date leaves is indicative of a reality the film only hints at. In the bubble world she lives in, people offset reality at every chance because it’s equated as losing some essential part of their lifestyle. With that in mind, the fact that she hadn’t considered surrogacy is surprising. That she’d settle for Angie (Amy Poehler) just seems ridiculous especially with the clear baggage it’d involve. That she hasn’t seriously considered what a baby realistically means is also worrisome. But, even worse, that Baby Mama provides few laughs proves how the best intensions sometimes go awry as well as bore along the away.

While Fey’s balancing act of humor and seriousness is the weakest thing here, her Saturday Nite Live predecessors—Steve Martin and Sigourney Weaver—manage theirs with consummate ease. Martin (Barry) is the guru/boss whose eccentricities are regulated to limited perfection. Weaver (Chaffee Bicknell) runs the surrogacy clinic Kate ends up going to with an assured display of bluntness. It’s interesting to watch Kate maneuver around these two because both are oddly part of the ideal she aims for in spite of the conflicting rigidity within her. The film never seriously attempts to explore the juxtaposition of her inherent tension and their carefree mentalities however. Nor does it minimally even look at the issue of alternative parenting types, which is legally changing yet again globally.

It does try to bridge the gap somewhat between her and Angie but McCullers clogs endless clichés and outright boring scenarios in the way. Both women start out predictably enough superficially assessing the other. Kate however refuses to see the change of lifestyle that a baby will bring even as Angie initially acts like one. Here the film goes overboard in trying to convince us of Angie’s instability when its clear from her first line that she’s not playing with a full set of marbles. Neither is Kate who is so wrapped up in her own personal space that she doesn’t even suspect the (spoiler alert) scam going on around her. All she sees, with her well coiffed hair and power broker glasses, is another step towards her happiness.

Watching Fey, I’m struck at the parallels she runs to Charlotte Brady, Kristen Davis’ character in the series Sex & the City. Charlotte’s eternal quest for maternal happiness however is part of a bigger, more serious picture that Kate could never fit into. Kate’s delusions are deep enough that she doesn’t even have friends who keep her grounded. All she has is a mother who plays dicey race jokes and a sister who she would switch roles with in a heartbeat. Neither adds to her as an aspiring mother nor does she inject anything to them. The love interest, Rob (Greg Kinnear) is a side-bar to say the least. More deploring is Kate’s life itself, the utter emptiness of her success and the awkwardness she has with real situations. Kate is a heavy amalgamation of not just Charlotte but of other feminist types and the ditzy appeal of Diane Keaton too. With so many iconic types guiding her, Fey fails to cull just the right amount of their essences to build one whole, empowering character even with her own talents. Nor is Poehler, stuck viciously into stereotype, allowed much room to lighten things up.

It's unfortunate but for all the intuitive genius that is clearly within Fey and Poehler, the film stops dead-stock before it can gather even a smidgen of the chemistry both exude so easily on Saturday Nite Live. Both are riotous when bouncing lines off each other in that comedic outlet but here the ambitious plot weighs down and restricts them. Baby Mama, alas, to quote a line from a Clap Your Hands Say Yeah song… does not cut deep but cuts most absurdly.

RATING: 5/10

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