It's easy to say that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler
are two of the funniest women working in comedy today. Aside
from their time together on Saturday Night Live,
they've both accomplished wickedly funny work on shows like
30 Rock and Upright Citizens' Brigade. Because
of the latter company's commitment to quality stage work
for little recognition, take it a step further and say that
Poehler has an incredible amount of integrity, too. With
those bloodlines, Baby Mama should be great.
Unfortunately, they put their eggs in the
basket of writer/director Michael McCullers, a guy with
a long comedy pedigree, too. Like Fey and Poehler, he spent
time in the trenches at Saturday Night Live, before
detouring under Mike Meyers' wing for the Austin Powers
series. He has trouble establishing a tone, and a tendency
to let looser, more TV sketch-oriented performances run
wild and free, losing sight of what should have been a clever
Baby Mama rarely develops beyond
a set-up for random scenes along a timeline. Kate Holbrook
(Fey) has sacrificed relationships for a high-powered career,
but now finds herself with a serious case of baby fever.
After a few half-hearted attempts at artificial insemination
- the sequence is a little unclear, but it may be just one
try - Kate investigates surrogate motherhood.
This pairs her up with Poehler's "white
trash" Angie Ostrowiski, a Philadelphia native straight
out of the SNL playbook. Always exactly as smart
or dim as the scene requires her to be, Angie agrees to
carry Kate's baby, taking it too far and leaving her common
law husband Carl (Dax Shepherd) to intrude upon Kate's upper-class
Certainly the paranoia of impending motherhood
has plenty of room for laughs. But Baby Mama doesn't
offer any particular new insights there. Jokes about proper
diet go on for too long, and together Kate and Angie take
a birthing class in scenes that (like an Austin Powers film)
believe that overplaying a speech impediment automatically
equals gut-busting laughs. Both Fey and Poehler have dryer
sensibilities than this, and both occasionally seem desperate
to make this seem funnier than it is.
It doesn't help that not everybody fits
in the loony world being set up. Certainly, Steve Martin
and Sigourney Weaver know how to play broader characters.
Though both wring laughs out of their roles, you can't shake
the feeling that you've seen them do the same characters
during hosting duties for SNL.
In particular, Weaver's Chaffee Bicknell
has walked right in off of a commercial parody, an obviously
sextegenarian with a mysteriously young uterus, an impossible
joke the script never explains, yet milks to its utmost.The
sensation gets worse when Will Arnett and Fred Armisen show
up, both funny guys that have yet to play realistic people.
Though never sharing scenes, they clash
with the tone of Maura Tierney as Kate's sister Caroline
and Greg Kinnear as "unexpected" love interest Rob. All
Tierney gets to do is show up, look beatific about motherhood
and flash that look of world-weary understanding that she
does so well. At least Kinnear makes his juice-store owner
seem sincere in his anger toward the big business practices
of Jamba Juice. That Kate works for a store that would likely
anger him even more never gets addressed, though when the
story requires it, he suddenly turns into Mr. Wrong.
The script also provides too many phantom
characters, bare plot contrivances that seem important for
a moment, yet never actually appear. Kinnear has a daughter,
and despite several mentions and some emotional resonance,
she remains off-stage.
That worked for Niles' wife on Frasier,
but this isn't a sitcom.
This also isn't a particularly funny movie,
though it should have been. It isn't quite a collection
of sketches around a theme, though that might have worked.
This also isn't the showcase for Fey and Poehler that they
obviously thought it would be. If only Baby
Mama could have decided what it is. Instead, we're left
with hopes and dreams and a desire to watch Knocked Up.