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Womb for rent
by Syd M
May 01, 2008 01:00 AM | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tina Fey is funny. She's not particularly funny in Baby Mama, in which she plays it straight while everyone else runs comedic circles around her. Fey plays Kate Holbrook, a vice president at Round Earth (a Whole Foods-style organic grocery chain). She's climbing the corporate ladder, making money, living in a posh pad in Philly, doing the whole successful single woman thing, but...can she have it all? Of course, even asking the question implies that she can't. And in Kate's case, what she can't have is a baby.

Babies are the accessory du jour in Hollywood these days, and in movies, babies in utero are the comedy plot prop du jour. Kate desperately wants a baby. She gets all dewy-eyed every time she sees one. She sees a fertility doctor (John Hodges), who tells her that he really doesn't like her uterus. She's too impatient to adopt; she lives a stopwatch life and it's ticking fast and loud. And so she hires a surrogate to gestate and birth her offspring.

That would be Angie Ostrowiski (Amy Poehler), a gum-chewing, trashy-clothes-wearing, dumber-than-dumb blonde from, as they used to say, the wrong side of the tracks. Angie and her doofusy, ne'er-do-well common-law husband Carl (Dax Shepard) - whose idea of a job is to stay home all day trying to win concert tickets on the radio - need the surrogate's fees, but Kate needs a baby even more, which is how the Kate-and-Angie odd couple comes to pass. After Angie and Carl break up, Angie moves in with the controlling, nervous Kate, who disapproves of her junk-food-junkie ways and TV habits and general slovenliness - which is a setup with comedic potential that results in scant actual comedy.

While the bun is in the oven, Kate's got a couple of other projects going, including launching a new store (which, in the movie's universe, takes less time than gestating a baby) and launching a tentative romance with a smoothie shop-owner (Greg Kinnear). Plot complications ensue.

Baby Mama was written and directed by Saturday Night Live alum Michael McCullers with minimal pizzazz and a sappy, happily-ever-after ending that would make Fey's SNL alter ego cry "feh." This is the sort of movie in which the small parts are far more fun and inspired than the lead character - reflecting, perhaps, the movie's SNL roots. So many of the movie spin-offs that have emerged from the sketch comedy show have fallen flat in part because its quirky characters work best in small doses.

It's easy to imagine most of the supporting characters in Baby Mama working in a short-sketch comedy routine, and they work well here in appropriately parsimonious amounts: Siobhan Fallon is a hoot as a supercilious birthing coach with a pwobwematic speech impediment; so too is Steve Martin as Kate's aggressively New Agey, ponytailed CEO boss; Romany Malco is Oscar, the sort of snarky doorman who is always hanging around with helpful advice, and who here serves as a kind of surrogate baby daddy for Angie and Kate. Sigourney Weaver is weirdly funny as the hyperfertile Chaffee Bicknell, who operates the surrogacy agency. Poehler invests Angie with a lot of goofy energy and a fair amount of sweetness, which salvages her character from the fairly crudely sketched, white-trashy slot she occupies.

All these characters skip and whirl around the fairly stiff, mostly immobile Fey, whose job here is just to be the smartest girl in the room. She is the smartest - but also the least invested with a personality. In a broad, topical comedy like Baby Mama, smart is good, but smart and funny would have been even better.

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