April 27, 2008

Movie Review: Baby Mama

On the surface, Baby Mama looks like a no-brainer of a comedy. The trailers pointed to a slam dunk of a fun comedy, not aspiring for greatness, but sure to provide a steady stream of laughs and chuckles as delivered by a former Saturday Night Live alum teaming with a current cast member. So, did those trailers point us all in the right direction? Well, sort of. It did provide laughs, although they are a bit more sporadic than I had hoped. It turns out that most of the big laughs were in the trailer. There is also the problem of the concept potential, there is more there than what makes it to the execution stage. I am sure that most of you know about concept potential, it is an idea that has many directions to go in and a level of depth that could be attained yet isn't. Baby Mama seems to content to wallow in mediocrity. Fortunately, this mediocrity is still worth watching, at least until the story intrudes on the fun.

Single businesswoman Kate Holbrook (TINA FEY) attends Lamaze with her surrogate, working girl Angie Ostrowiski (AMY POEHLER)Tina Fey stars as Kate Holbrook, a career-minded executive for a chain of health food stores. As she has gotten older she discovered that there was something missing. Despite her protestations of the opposite, Kate felt a deep desire to have child, a desire that was not going away. Kate gives into those desires and does everything she can to become pregnant; unfortunately, it was not to be. Not giving up, Kate turns to Chaffee Bicknell (Sigourney Weaver), the head of a company specializing in placing wanting mothers with surrogates. Enter Angie Ostrowiski (Amy Poehler), a white trash woman, with an even trashier husband, Carl (Dax Shepard).

Angie agrees to be Kate's surrogate and the process moves forward. However, a wrench gets thrown into the gears when Angie and Carl have a falling out and she shows up on Kate's doorstep. What follows is an Odd Couple-styled relationship that is until the plot comes into focus.

There are a few threads that weave together forming the ratty tapestry supporting the comedy. On one hand, there is Kate at work, looking for a new location for a store, and in the process falling into a relationship with a local shop owner specializing in fruit smoothies (Greg Kinnear). This involves a funny for a minute supporting performance from Steve Martin as the new-agey company head. Her work responsibilities are balanced by Angie and the little bundle that she carries.

Mother to be  Kate Holbrook (TINA FEY) and surrogate Angie (AMY POEHLER) trash an ex boyfriends carNow, the plot does bring with it some surprises. Well, not really but why would I want to rob you of the potential joy to be had in uncovering all of Baby Mama's secrets? Okay, perhaps that was a little overboard, but there are still some interesting directions taken as the attempt to fuse comedy and heart with story tries to force that round peg into the square hole.

No, the movie is not that bad, but it does suffer in depth and execution. It all comes back to that idea of concept potential. The basic idea offers plenty of potential to explore the drive for motherhood and the desire to have a successful career and the attempts to balance the two, not to mention an exploration of the surrogate process and the attempts to become pregnant. All of this could have been wrapped up in a very funny film. However, I get the impression that they were content to allow the plot to play along a line of predictability.

Working girl Angie (AMY POEHLER) confides in doorman Oscar (ROMANY MALCO)On the other side, Baby Mama is at its best when Tina and Amy are working together. Their chemistry is fantastic and they were clearly having a good time filming. I can only imagine the funny ad-libs that were captured on their sure to be numerous takes. Both of these actresses have a natural charisma lending to some great screen presence. My biggest question is how much better this may have been had Tina taken a pass at the script; something tells me she could have punched it up considerably. That also makes me wonder why she didn't?

The supporting cast is a mixed bag of the good, the good for the moment, and the underused. On the good side of the coin is Romany Malco as Oscar the doorman. The man has great timing and is a very humorous presence, stealing many of the scenes he appears in. Good for the moment refers to Steve Martin, who plays Barry the head of the health food company. He is a pseudo- New Agey guru who is best limited to small doses and quickly overstays his welcome, this despite being his first appearance since the abysmal Pink Panther. As for the underused? That crown goes to Maura Tierney as Kate's sister Caroline. She is fine in her limited role, but there was potential for more.

This is screenwriter Michael McCullers first shot at being a director. His past work includes the Austin Powers sequels and Undercover Brother. It strikes me that he would be better served to stick with the overblown comedies. His work here to infuse heart and reality do not go far enough and it is when he is working with the goofier comedic moments that he is at his best.

Bottomline. This is a solidly mediocre film. It is far off from being terrible, yet does not raise its aspirations high enough to have any sort of long lasting impact. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler do their best to inject life into the script and come out unscathed. May not be worth a trip to the theater, but definitely worth a future rental.

Mildly Recommended.


Pdama Llama said...

Tina Fey is still awesome tho you must admit!


Chris said...

Yes I would have to admit that. I wonder how much better this could have been had she done a rewrite....?

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