Look: Babies are great. Sex is great. Messy and ridiculous and laughable—both babies and sex—but great. So why don’t we get movies like that, that acknowledge the deeply weird wonderfulness of all this chaotic and confusing and hilarious life stuff? Why do we get movies, these days, about ostensible grownups dealing with ostensibly grownup things—like sex and babies and stuff—that treat their characters like they deserved to be snickered at and their audiences like they’re children whose only possible reaction to matters of sex and babies and stuff is to snicker?
I expected more from Tina Fey, who at least seems like a grownup, yet here lets herself be treated like she’s not worthy of respect we’d accord a dog. Her Kate Holbrook is a successful professional who, at the age of 37, decides she’s going to stop waiting for the right man to come along so that she can have a baby and just go it alone. Which would be fine, if the movie made any pretense, even in a farcical way, of understanding how complicated women’s lives can be today.
Why bother to do that when you can hire a man—here, writer/director Michael McCullers, a Saturday Night Live writer who’s never directed anything before—to crack gynecological jokes and reduce that apparently smart, competent woman to the level of a simpering child? And not just a child, but, ironically, one who is too weirdly, twistedly old to seriously believe she could carry a child in her weird, twisted old womb. “I just don’t like your uterus,” John Hodgeman’s ob-gyn tells her, and he’s funny about it. I want to see a movie where a woman says something to a man like, “I just don’t like your dick,” and she’s seen as humorous, and not a witchy, bitchy villain.
Kate defends her decision to go with a surrogate mother to her own mother thusly: “Being single is not an alternative lifestyle.” “It is when you’re 37,” her mother (Holland Taylor) replies, which is, on the surface, supposed to be a joke, something that shows off the mom as old-fashioned and out of touch with the modern world. Except the rest of the movie appears to be on the mom’s side.
And it’s not like Kate hires Juno to carry her baby. She hires white-trashy Angie Ostrowiski—played by Amy Poehler, who is all of 16 months younger than Tina Fey. And let’s not even get started on the exploitation of poor women that is the for-pay surrogacy industry. Or, OK, let’s, at least as it concerns would-be pregnancy farces: If you were a smart woman paying $100,000 to another woman to carry your child, wouldn’t you ensure there was something in the contract about, oh, not smoking and not eating junk food?
Even on its own sorry terms, Baby Mama is ludicrous, falling back on toilet humor because it has nothing else to offer. (“I’m sorry I called you stupid,” Kate tells Angie. “I’m sorry I farted into your purse,” Angie replies. Really? Are you kidding me?) And it similarly falls back on making fun of what it is itself supposedly celebrating: Why does Siobhan Fallon Hogan’s New Age-y birthing coach come complete with lisp, which somehow connotes emotional sensitivity as absurd? If Baby Mama wants to pretend it’s all about the human experience of nurturing a baby in the womb and giving it a good start in life—which is what Fey’s character is, allegedly, all about—then why is it making fun of getting in touch with that?
Baby Mama is bizarre; “I knew I was supposed to have a baby” Angie tells Kate at the faux-sentimental ending, “but you taught me how to be a mother,” for which there is no evidence whatsoever. It is atrociously written; the first act is 50 minutes long (30 is about as long as a 95-minute film can tolerate). It absolutely wastes Greg Kinnear as Kate’s new love interest. And if you can’t follow where that subplot is going, you deserve this movie as it is.
Tina Fey, Amy Pohler, Greg Kinnear