Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Tina Fey wants a Bebe...
And I don’t know why.
Neither does she, apparently. Baby Mama begins with an informative voiceover heard over blank credits from Fey’s Kate Holbrook explaining how she managed to succeed in the male-driven business world. She attests (slightly paraphrasing): “I wore the short skirts,” “I let the old men cop a feel during business lunches” and then suddenly - - “I woke up one morning and felt like all the babies on the street were staring at me,” and goes on and on about how much she wants a baby. For comedic effect, the first real image we see is of Fey sitting at a dinner table with a man who obviously looks disturbed by the wealth of information just thrown at him. “Too much for a first date?” Fey asks.
So begins Baby Mama - a film with all of the bells and whistles of a grade-A female comedy that has too many balls and not enough bite to make it soar.
I hate to sectionalize films with trite remarks like “the first third of the movie was good, but the middle act and half of the climax sucked” because, well, it’s useless. However, Baby Mama warrants this type of criticism because there is a clear-cut distinction between the scenes in which Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are alone in their wondrous, pregnant universe and basically the rest of the movie when either or both of the ladies step outside and interact with the men of their worlds.
When Amy Poehler moves into Tina Fey’s apartment after she leaves her boyfriend, the movie takes an uplifting turn that kicks it up a few more notches than it actually deserves. As I pointed out in my quarterly review, few films allow women to have actual friendships that don’t involve catty, petty motives or some steak knives buried in shoulder blades. Baby Mama allows Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to be friends - to support one another, laugh, cry, and play the American Idol video game incessantly. They create their own loving, nurturing nest inside their environment. So much so, that certain people in the movie think they’re in a lesbian relationship. And, oddly enough, Fey and Poehler don’t really disagree. I don’t think I’ve seen such good chemistry between two women since Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis appeared together in Thelma and Louise (1991). They’re really fun to watch on screen together.
If the film had been written and/or directed by Ms. Fey as it should have, there’s no doubt in my mind that it would be ten times more clever and empowering than it is right now. I’m not one for television, but I’ve recently joined the Tina Fey bandwagon and can’t wait to see where she goes next with her career. She’s one of the few recognizably female powerhouses in the industry who is frequently lauded and applauded for her work. And, Amy Poehler, for that matter is an up and coming talent behind the scenes, having just created her own animated series called The Mighty B.
And those are the precise reasons the rest of Baby Mama is such a startling disappointment. About half-way through the running time, the film takes an out-of-nowhere turn for the worse by turning Amy Poehler’s character into one of those wenches who had intended to stab her friend in the back. For no reason! That plot point unravels the rest of the girl-power progress the film had been making with the Poehler/Fey relationship and quickly regresses in the opposite direction. By the end of the film they’re still friends, but each woman is paired off and stuck with a simpering infant to take care of. No one bothers to point out if Fey is still a high-powered business woman or if Poehler got her act together and went to college.
Another major problem I have with the film is its take on surrogacy and any sort of baby-making process other than that of the biological. Tina Fey can’t get pregnant via artificial insemination because she has a T-shaped uterus. She can’t adopt a child because she would be a single parent and they don’t like those. She opts to pay $100,000 for a surrogacy with Amy Poehler because it’s her only option. However, and I don’t want to give away any plot points, but the movie paints surrogacy as some sort of Alien invention by making the creator, Sigourney Weaver, of the agency Fey goes to as some eccentric loony-bin who can still get pregnant in her fifties. And, in case you’re wondering, there are plenty of jokes about that too.
When the surrogacy with Amy Poehler fails to work because of her own stupidity and Tina Fey gets knocked up the old fashioned way, the film is taking a conservative bend that is most unwelcoming. It’s saying “you can still get pregnant if you wait for the right man to come along.” Greg Kinnear’s penis must be the eight wonder if it can turn a thirty-seven year old T-shaped uterus into something workable. Movies like Baby Mama that deal directly with topics like different kinds of reproduction methods should be striving to depict these issues in a positive light or they won’t be taken seriously.
Bad Baby Mama. Bad. Bad.