Tina Fey wants a baby really badly but she’s single and her uterus is shaped like a “T”. Her doctor (the Daily Show’s John Hodgman) says twice that he “just doesn’t like her uterus”, which is a strange line that’s vaguely mysogynistic and I guess sets the tone for the film. This screenplay kind of dislikes women, or at least dislikes the women in it, but like with the doctor, the hope is that the sentiment is so ridiculous it will be funny.
We learn how badly Fey wants a baby in a scene where she watches infants bounce and bob across the screen in slow motion, held by other women. The last bit of the montage has Fey at work (she’s a high level executive, flanked by males) where she imagines the men at the boardroom table as babies. This isn’t funny at all; it plays as kind of sad. If we’re putting babies in random places, why not get as ridculous as the idea of hallucinating about babies is in the first place? Why not have the sweet montage mutate to Fey eating a piece of chicken that then appears to be a baby? Take a poo and then the baby is there in the toilet? (Which would have a vicious secondary meaning that makes the laugh innapropriate and maybe more enjoyable). I dunno, I’m not a comedian, but Fey is. This should be funnier.
Fey’s boss is a hippie-turned-yuppie corporate brand monster, played by Steven Martin. He has long white hair, talks in parables about himself climbing mountains and breaking bread with indiginous peoples, and he has weird behavioural tics, like staring into people’s eyes for uncomfortable lengths and sitting on boardroom tables with legs crossed in a lotus position. This nicely positions Fey in a world of fake, mass produced wellness, a jab at corporate lifestyle gurus such as Starbucks and Lulu Lemon.
While Fey can’t succeed at her true goal (pushin’ out babies), she climbs the corporate ladder with ease. Her boss hands her the point-position on a new project, the construction and opening of a flagship store in a burdgeoning, small community neighbourhood. After her promotion of sorts, she walks downstairs and all the women employees give her a quiet standing ovation. This sets us up for some sort of feminism tacked on to the building anti-corporate sentiment.
Back at the uterus, Fey has opted for a surrogate mother. The clinic she tries is run by Sigourney Weaver, who made such great cinematic strides for women as Ripley from the Alien series, but whose bragging card here is that she’s old but can still push out the babies. She rubs this in Fey’s face repeatedly while selling her on the idea of a surrogate, which she describes as a babysitter before the birth.
At her apartment, waiting to meet her surrogate uterus, Fey chats with the doorman, played by 40 Year Old Virigin’s Romany Malco. Malco is playing the exact same role as in 40YOV, except with a doorman outfit and without the choice lines. Missing the quality comedy, the role comes off as stereotypical. He schools Fey on the fact that her surrogate is basically a ‘Baby Mama.’ “You pay the bills, she has a baby. Ask any black man, that’s a baby mama,” he explains.
Fey’s surrogate, played by SNL’s Amy Poehler, is a white trash trailer-park type, dressed in ghetto-fab fashion and participating in the ordeal as part of her significant other’s (Dax from Punk’d) latest entrepreneurial scheme. We’ve set up the class/gender/racial divides and criss-crossed ’em like wires on a ticking time bomb: hilarity should be ensuing, exploding at this point, right?
But the film proves tamer that anything Fey’s been involved in so far; less absurd than 30 Rock, less audacious than Mean Girls, and much less commited to the joke than Saturday Night Live.
Fey’s budding relationship with Poehler is mirrored by a flirtation with Greg Kinnear, a small business owner in the neighborhood she scouts to build her company’s new store. He owns a place called Super Fruity, a gay joke that goes nowhere, a juice smoothy joint that he adamantly distances from camparisons with the corportate Jamba Juice. The film’s subtextual preoccupation with whole foods and organics becomes urgent in that Poehler’s character refuses to eat healthily — she loves junk and is most likely harming the health of the baby.
Ultimately though, Baby Mama has nothing to say about the tensions it sets up between class and gender, nor the one between big corporations and local businesses, or even whole foods and sugary snacks. At one point, during the highpoint of the film’s conflict narrative, Fey calls Poehler ignant white trash, but this is never recanted and Fey’s character never learns why she is wrong (or perhaps, the film wrongly forgives her this outburst).
The film’s best laid constructions turn out faulty: the relationship between Fey (giant corporate mover-shaker) and Kinnear (plucky entrepreneur) commences when Fey visits the juice bar drunk and dressed like a girl half her age, clearly in the throes of a mid-life no-baby-yet crisis. She should seem like a drunken sob story here, let alone a drunken sob story trying to put shops like his out of business, but instead they hook up and it makes no sense, no statement, and illicits no laughs. This should be an embarassing scene for Fey — she’s drunk, innapropriate, she’s ditched Poehler — but instead it’s the start of a great new (un-justified) relationship.
Fey being caught between Steve Martin and his problematic mountain wisdom and Greg Kinnear and his wholesome common sense goes nowhere, and Fey never ends up having to choose one over the other, make any moral decision, grow in any sort of way.
All the tensions are solved by babies, and all character developments are halted and made irrelavant by the fact that everyone is now magically (especially in Fey’s case) with child. Poehler and Dax have a baby, Fey and Kinnear have a baby, Malco is shown to have a family of his own devoid of any serious baby mama drama that he’s alluded to, and they all party together, a mismatched group if ever there was one and a bizarre extrapolation of an ‘alternative family’, at Chuckie Cheese. It’s cool to see a counterpoint to recent pregnancy-themed movies where, for once, the pregnancies are all planned, conscious decisions, but by the end, all barriers between the characters have been merely collapsed instead of resolved.