“Baby Mama” was the number one movie at the box office last weekend, and with good reason — it’s a broad, mainstream comedy that stars Tina Fey and Amy Poehler and was written and directed by Michael McCullers, who is probably best known for co-writing “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” with Mike Myers.
“Baby Mama” doesn’t have the sly charm of Fey’s screenplay for “Mean Girls,” nor is it as anarchic and silly as the Austin Powers films, but it’s a diverting comedy with some great laughs.
The film begins with a voiceover, as Kate Holbrook (Fey) laments her childless status.
Kate, a VP at a health foods company, desperately wants to have a baby, and has tried, without any luck, every method in the book to conceive. The subsequent cut to Kate at dinner with a bemused man, as she realizes she has divulged far too much information for a first date, makes for a nice laugh.
Kate is a familiar character in modern comedy: the intelligent, high maintenance, career-woman whose love life is usually in shambles. Years ago this role would have been played by Meg Ryan, but Fey does well with it since she is an actress who can modulate between deadpan and exasperated.
And exasperated is just what Kate becomes when she reluctantly decides to try having a baby through a surrogate named Angie Ostrowski (Poehler).
Angie’s fertilization, using Kate’s eggs, is successful, but matters are complicated when Angie walks out on her slovenly husband and moves in with Kate.
Kate and Angie butt heads almost instantly. Kate, a health nut and neat-freak, wants Angie to eat well and prepare for the pregnancy as much as possible.
But Angie, who might charitably be described as uncouth and petulant, would rather sit around all day drinking Dr. Pepper and Slushies and playing American Idol Karaoke Revolution.
The spats between Kate and Angie, though predictable, are funny, but some of the film’s best moments come from the supporting players, like Steve Martin.
Martin, sporting a ponytail and a surfer-dude/Zen attitude, plays Kate’s boss Barry, a health food store president. Martin gets a great laugh in a scene where he describes finding a seashell, whose design he wants all his stores to emulate, while strolling barefoot.through the Toronto airport.
“Baby Mama” is funny and that’s all that really matters in a comedy, but I can’t help but wonder what the movie would have been like if Fey, an accomplished comic writer, had scripted the film based on her personal experiences (Fey has a two and a half year old daughter) instead of McCullers.
Fey’s writing could have given the film with a more subversive tone, which might have elevated “Baby Mama” above its mainstream origins.
Jeff Schwartz can be reached at email@example.com.