2008, PG-13, 96 min. Directed by Michael McCullers. Starring Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Greg Kinnear, Dax Shepard, Romany Malco, Sigourney Weaver, Steve Martin, Maura Tierney.
REVIEWED By Josh Rosenblatt, Fri., April 25, 2008
One of these days the talents of Tina Fey will become apparent to me and I’ll be able to look back at her time on Saturday Night Live, her current hit sitcom 30 Rock, and Baby Mama and see the comic genius everyone else apparently already sees. Until then, I’m at a loss: Every time I see her, I can’t help thinking she looks like she’d rather be anywhere but onscreen – unconvinced and uncommitted, as if she never entertained the possibility of being a star and so hadn’t really prepared herself for the responsibility. Which is a problem for a movie like Baby Mama, in which every scene begins when Fey enters a room and ends when she leaves it. As Kate Holbrook, a successful 37-year-old executive with no social life but a burning desire for a baby, Fey is supposed to be the solid (if insecure) sun around which a whole solar system of eccentrics revolves, including Fey’s former SNL cast mate Poehler as Angie, a lower-class brat whom Kate hires to be her surrogate, and Martin as Kate’s blissed-out, ponytailed boss at Round Earth Organic Market, who rewards his employees for their good work with “five minutes of uninterrupted eye contact.” Instead, Fey is perpetually tentative, either unwilling or unable to throw herself into the role of a no-longer-young single woman with a pounding biological clock, a natural neuroticism, and parental paranoia that I’m guessing is supposed to come off as absurd and satirical but is probably par for the course in modern Yuppie America (if there isn’t already a stroller with air bags on the market, it’s only a matter of time before there is). In Fey’s defense, writer/director McCullers doesn’t help her much, shifting the tone of his screenplay between boorish bathroom humor, corny musical montages, and forced emotional confrontations without much concern for logic or consistency. That's a shame because when Angie unexpectedly moves into Kate’s apartment, the opportunity is there for some meaty class-conflict humor: the shallowness of the trendy upwardly mobile versus the stubborn cultural provincialism of the America’s Funniest Home Videos-loving lower-middle-class, set against a backdrop of impending motherhood. But, just like it is in the world of SNL that Fey, Poehler, and McCullers sprang from, the choice gets made time and again to aim not for the high road but for the great, big, fat, juicy, unchallenging, uncontroversial middle ground, where everybody’s laughing but nothing is all that funny.