July 15, 2018

Baby Mama (2008)
Grade: 37/100

Director: Michael McCullers
Stars: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Dax Shepard

What it's about. Corporate ladder climber Tina Fey really, really wants to have a baby. And she's 37, which means it's becoming now or never. And her uterus is T-shaped, or something. So, she pays Amy Poehler to be the surrogate mother.

But the ambitious, educated, and clean-living Fey is an odd couple with high school dropout Poehler, who lives with her unreliable "common law" husband Dax Shephard. To keep the 100K payout from Fey, Poehler fakes her surrogate pregnancy, becomes pregnant from Dax, and pretends that the Dax baby is Fey's.

Not to worry. Because it is a movie, Fey falls in love with nice guy small businessman Greg Kinnear, and has a baby with him, T-shaped uterus be damned. Now that you know the happy ending, you can save yourself the 100m and find a better movie to watch.

Steve Martin, Sigourney Weaver, and token black guy Romany Malco have minor supporting roles.

How others will see it. Baby Mama was short of a blockbuster but it did prove profitable for Universal Studios. Despite Poehler's different hairstyle in every scene, it was ignored by the most significant film festivals. But it was nominated for Best Comedy by both the Teen Choice Awards and AARP Movies for Grownups. I guess it's the age demographic in between that should avoid the movie, despite the infrequent joke or gag that qualifies as satisfactorily amusing.

At imdb.com, the 37K user vote total is somewhat low, given its star power. The user ratings are a middling 6.4 from women under 30, while men over 30 grade it only 5.9 out of 10.

Surprisingly, then, the user reviews are generally positive. For these forgiving folks, Fey, Poehler, and company are adorable, and their comic timing and likability factor overwhelm a pedestrian plot and script.

How I felt about it. Tina Fey is cute. Amy Poehler is game. Dax Shepard is a scene-stealer. Steve Martin is reliable. Sigourney Weaver can be funny, outside of the Alien franchise. You can check all those boxes.

The problem isn't with our talented leads (I'll even give Greg Kinnear a pass, though I can't think of a reason why at the moment). Yes, the problem is with Michael McCullers, the director and sole writer of this disappointing comedy.

It turns out that Baby Mama remains the only feature film directed by McCullers, ten years after it made a respectable profit at the theaters. He's mostly known as a writer of so-so but profitable comedy screenplays these past two decades, after honing his teeth for two years at "Saturday Night Live".

I know, it's all too easy to blame the writer and director, particularly when he is male, instead of blaming the top two leads, particularly when they are female.

But what does it tell you when a film is best enjoyed when the sound is off? Then, you can enjoy the attractive faces, lithe bodies, and frenemy relationship of Fey and Poehler without any obligation to laugh at the lame jokes. Is it chocolate or poop? I don't want to know. Just clean it up.