By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic
At the outset of director Michael McCullers’s “Baby Mama,” about a snobbish single exec who has everything but the baby she so desires, there is hope. It looks like this tale of surrogacy just might have the film DNA it takes to be edgy.
Uniquely acerbic Miss Fey as Kate Holbrook, the no-nonsense entrepreneur attempting the startup venture of her life, is the chief cause of this optimism. The SNL star’s take-no-prisoners brand of comedy precedes her.
Unfortunately, when you pass the Movie Originality Test through the stream of uninspired predictability that follows, it reads a disappointing little o. However, if you’re really surprised when this motion picture turns out to be the same old, same old, then you’ve badly underestimated the dumbing down powers of Hollywood.
So it’s not the satire de resistance Miss Fey is destined to be a big part of one day. Still, director McCullers, who also wrote the script, does manage a pie-in-the-sky conviviality. Meaning its PG-13ness is perfect for feeding to large Friday and Saturday night crowds at the multiplex. Where, by movie’s end, every character flaw will be happily reconciled.
That includes our winsomely clever protagonist. Kate is the newly promoted V.P. for a Philadelphia-based purveyor of pretentiously named, upscale groceries run by Steve Martin’s pony-tailed CEO. Like the biker/marketing expert in “Putney Swope” (1969), he is effeteness personified. Only in his case he passes off his gluttony as the commonweal.
The product of a time that names stadiums after corporations instead of people, Kate buys in…tofu, twigs and macrobiotic sinkers. But along her ascent to the boardroom, she has ignored the call of biology, its clock now ticking loud enough to awaken her primordial nature, if not her ancestors. Problem is, she hasn’t been able to conceive.
But that’s OK. A thoroughly modern female, Miss Holbrook has by now given up on conventional love, marriage and childbirth. Besides, there’s no time. She’s been put in charge of spearheading the firm’s anchor store right here in Philly. Nope, contemporary science and the emerging sociology will just have to satisfy her maternal instinct.
Said plan takes her to Chafee Bicknell, a chic surrogate mom clearing house run by and named after Sigourney Weaver’s contribution to the cast of eccentric supporting players. The running gag here is that, though pushing 60, Chaffee is herself the model of fertility. In dulcet tones, she informs of her dedication to helping women not so lucky as she.
In Kate’s case that means the bringing forth of Amy Poehler’s Angie Ostrowiski, a slacker greedily steered into the baby mama business by her ne’er-do-well boyfriend, Carl (Dax Shepard). Of course, the excited, would-be mom is at first oblivious to the subterranean saga inspiring her surrogate. She just wants to be of aid, to bond with Angie.
The honeymoon is brief, the bloom quickly off the rose when, after a breakup with Carl, Angie seeks shelter at Kate’s stylish digs. Let the class warfare begin. The differences are itemized like an insurance company’s comparison of risk between the lower and middle classes. Amy is very poor and bad. Kate is quite successful and good. Enmity flourishes.
But alas, the two are tied by that legal umbilical cord known as a contract. And despite protests, Kate, viewing Angie as a sort of elitist’s burden, gives their relationship the old college try. The unwelcome tutorials range from how to eat more healthfully to hopefully reinvigorating that dream Miss Ostrowiski once had of attending beauty school.
One can practically hear Kate’s version of Henry Higgins opining, “She’s so deliciously low. So horribly dirty.” But while Poehler’s variation on Eliza Doolittle wouldn’t mind a little more cash, she isn’t about to succumb to the folkways and mores of the uptight gal trying to transform her. Plus, Amy is harboring a plot-twisting secret.
Meanwhile, Kate adds a variable of her own. Scoping out a location for the landmark grocery store, she meets sweet Rob (Greg Kinnear), a lawyer who traded in his briefcase for the proprietorship of a juice bar. “No,” you cry out. “It can’t go this way.” Right. And the Government is doing all it can to keep the oil interests from ruining our economy.
Kinnear is the perfect default amoroso. But his second stint as the gentle purveyor of nonalcoholic beverages is a double-edged sword. The full-fledged movie actor can’t help but show up the Misses Fey and Poehler for the sketch comics they are. While the lady leads are funny when doing bits, “Baby Mama” shows there’s plenty of room for growth.
“Baby Mama,” rated PG-13, is a Universal Pictures release directed by Michael McCullers and stars Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Greg Kinnear. Running time: 96 minutes
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