Saturday, March 5, 2011


Good news, everyone!  I decided to not be lame and actually keep up with a weekly feature!  Is the apocalypse nigh?  Perhaps.  But regardless, I give you the second installment of CINEBLOGGO, this time devoted to the 2008 film “Baby Mama.” 

In general, I really want to love this movie.  It features perhaps my two favorite people on the planet (excepting people I actually know, blah blah blah) in a two-handed female comedy.  What’s not to like? 

Well, unfortunately, I have mixed feelings about “Baby Mama.”  There are definitely great things about it, mostly having to do with the participation of the two leading ladies - but in its characterization and marketing, there are two things that irk me.

One of the biggest issues of “Baby Mama” is how it portrays Kate Holbrook, Tina Fey’s character.  She’s a bit two-dimensional, unfortunately.  We see her as an uptight, inflexible WASP who is unmarried and desperate to have a baby.  Her lifestyle is portrayed as the punchline to a joke that’s not terribly funny.  Plenty of women probably live like Kate Holbrook and are happy about it.

And yes, a punchline is made out of Amy Poehler’s character’s lifestyle as well - however, Angie’s existence is far more complicated.  Most of the jokes are played off on her common-law husband Carl (Dax Shepherd) and we’re given the impression that she’s almost a victim of her own circumstance.  We feel badly for Angie, because she wasn’t afforded the same opportunities as Kate.  I will say that this is one aspect I do commend the movie for - it presents the notion that Angie could be a lot like Kate if she just had a chance for a better education or salary or family support.  That’s a bold and respectable concept to put forth, and it gives Angie a lovely tragic, three-dimensional quality to her.

But what about Kate?  Kate is paper thin.  She wants a baby.  And?  That’s it.  It upsets me a bit that this is all the movie affords her.  And because of this, there’s a huge divide in the likeability of the two main characters.  This movie is meant to be a two-handed film.  There are two stars’ names above the title, and two stars’ faces on the poster.  They should be on even footing, in terms of relatability. 

But even though technically she is in the right for most of the movie, Kate is not nearly as likeable as Angie.  Angie is allowed our sympathy - our empathy, even, and yet somehow Kate is just a fixed object.  Consider the scene at Kate’s baby shower, when the truth comes out (I’ll spoil nothing) and Kate lashes out.  “She's an ignorant white trash woman that I paid to carry my kid,” she spits.  That is a harsh piece of dialogue right there.  We should feel badly for Kate for being fooled, but instead we feel badly for Angie for being publicly and personally insulted.

The second issue I take with “Baby Mama” is the manner in which it was marketed.  I watched and read endless interviews in which one of the main talking points was about the giving focus to the concept of creating families in non-traditional ways.  The movie is about a woman’s relationship with her surrogate, and so it seemed like a fair assessment.  I went into the theater expecting to see an interesting example of an atypical 21st century family.

If you’d like to stay unspoiled, go ahead and skip this paragraph, okay?  Because the movie did not result in any untraditional families.  Turns out everybody got knocked up the “normal” way - Angie’s baby is hers with Carl, and Kate’s is hers with her boyfriend Rob (Greg Kinnear).  They raise the babies in a traditional family, with mother and father and genetically-supplied baby.  Well then.  So much for an exploration of the different ways to build a contemporary family.  I don’t care that the idea of surrogacy propelled much of the movie - if your final arrangements involve no baby borne of surrogacy, you’ve knocked your legs out from underneath you.

This is not to say that the movie itself is a failure.  There are many good things about it, largely to do with the involvement of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey.  They only starred in the film, and I wonder what it would have been like if they’d written it as well.  As it is, the best scenes seemed to be filled will Poehler/Fey improv - comedic and dramatic alike.  The movie’s most vulnerable scene, in which Angie and Kate part ways after the truth is out, was entirely improvised by Tina and Amy.  Truthfully, that makes me love the two actresses, but not so much the screenwriter. 

As a result, the two leads are the best thing the movie has going for it - Amy Poehler in particular.  She managed the dramatic and vulnerable moments just as easily and effectively as the comedic parts - all while maintaining relatability with a character who made questionable decisions.  The only inconsistency was her on-again, off-again Philadelphia accent!  And Tina, Tina did a commendable job keeping her character soft around the edges, but I don’t think the writing supported her as much as it could have.

The rest of the cast is also excellent, with Steve Martin being reliably unhinged, Greg Kinnear being reliably adorkable, and Dax Shepherd being reliably dim-witted.  Not to mention, Sigourney Weaver and Romany Malco do their part to be silly and likeable peripheral characters.  They all help to round out the charms of the onscreen ensemble, but unfortunately, “Baby Mama” misses a few marks and it took me a few viewings to get past the aforementioned hiccups.

I will say, it’s rewarding to watch the outtakes.  Every scene has multiple improvisations, and they’re all hilarious.  And, the commentary with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler is worth it as well.  There’s actual audio evidence that Amy’s nickname for Tina is indeed Betty!  I love these two, and the fact that they've been friends for over fifteen years.  If only they were allowed more input into the construction and execution of the film.  However, nothing’s going to stop me from hoping that Tina and Amy will team up on the big screen again, and soon.  I’ll try not to complain so much next time.

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