Think about the stink that has come off the feces that has been dropped by former Saturday Night Live cast members who moved into movies. There are so many bad, bad, bad films from Lorne Michael's laugh factory, you almost want to give the not-horrible but not great Baby Mama a pass. Almost. The Odd Couple is funny. I’ll start off by acknowledging that an uptight, neat freak person and sloppy, casual person living together can, in the right hands, make me laugh. It was funny when Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon did it in the 1968 movie and it was funny when Tony Randall and Jack Klugman did it on television in the 70’s. It has even been funny from time to time in the various other movie and television shows that have used and reused the concept. Unfortunately, the concept itself doesn’t guarantee that a movie will be funny, as Tina Fey and Amy Poehler demonstrate in their underwhelming comedy, Baby Mama.
Director and writer Michael McCullers, a former Saturday Night Live writer with Fey and writer of the lousy Austin Powers sequels, fails to get the funny performance out of Fey and Poehler that you know is possible. The two have good chemistry as uptight successful businesswoman Kate Holbrook (Fey) and South Philly white trash Angie Ostrowiski (Poehler), who end up living together when Angie becomes the surrogate mom for Kate’s baby. The chemistry, however, doesn’t result in enough funny things being said or done. Since the story itself is one cliché after another that ends in a mushy, feel-good, predictable goo, the lack of killer comedy is a big hole.
There is some funny. Fey and Poehler nail the good lines that they get from McCullers’ script. There’s a really good scene where Poehler goes into labor and goes off on the hospital staff. Dax Shepard as Angie’s even white-trashier common-law husband has excellent comic timing. Romany Malco pumps a little life into Kate’s doorman/confidant, even though he seems to exist merely to say things like “you got baby mama drama.” It just doesn’t generate the “belly laughs” that the promotional materials promised from this “hilarious” and “hysterical” movie.
That’s because most of the “belly laughs” are meant to derive from Kate and Angie’s Odd Couple pairing, which everyone has seen too many times in the past. In addition, while I was afraid that Poehler would overplay Angie as a movie version of Joy from My Name is Earl, she is nicely restrained - almost too restrained. Both Fey and Poehler are a little too flat. Also flat is the obvious direction of the plot. It just follows such a well trodden path. There are even the usual suspend-your-disbelief moments like Kate’s willingness to use white-trash Angie despite the large amount of money she’s paid to the surrogate agency. You’re telling me Angie was the best they could offer?
You can’t fault the casting. In addition to Fey and Poehler, Greg Kinnear shows up as a juice bar owner who goes through the romantic comedy mating ritual with Fey. They meet, break-up, and reunite on schedule. Sigourney Weaver and Steve Martin have smaller roles designed to squeeze laughs, which Weaver does and Martin doesn’t.
Thanks to the genuine chemistry between Fey and Poehler and the work of a few of the supporting cast, Baby Mama isn’t torture to watch. It doesn’t break any new ground and certainly seems like a hundred movies we’ve seen before. Lowering your expectations and realizing you saw most of the funny scenes in those trailers they showed earlier this year will give you a so-so evening with this film. Baby Mama doesn’t have a particularly extensive set of DVD extras, but it does have enough to please the casual fan. It also has both the anamorphic widescreen version (1.85:1) and, ugh, full frame version (1.33:1) on the same single double-sided disc. While I can’t generate anything more than an “ugh” for the full frame version, I do support the idea of choice for consumers and having both options without having to buy two DVDs is laudable. Not enough to actually watch the full frame version, but still.
Both the widescreen and full frame versions can be played with commentary. The commentary is like the movie itself, nothing spectacular but not horrible either. Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, writer/director Michael McCullers, and producer Lorne Michaels contribute. Well, Michaels doesn’t seem to contribute much, but Poehler and Fey make a lot of funny quips and also provide some decent behind-the-scenes information. Watching with the commentary will let you in on the fact that Richard Gere was the first choice to play Steve Martin’s role (that would have been awesome, which is probably why Gere didn’t do it), that New York stood in for Philadelphia, and that Greg Kinnear’s juice store was almost a tea shop.
The commentary is probably the highlight of the extras; everything else is either short or not particularly interesting. There is a two and a half minute “Alternate Ending.” Instead of the actual ending that plays with the credits of the whole extended families playing around at the birthday party at the Chuck-E-Cheese or whatever it was, this one is in the backyard and includes a twist about Kate’s mommy status. It’s not worse than how they ended up doing it, but the ending they used had a little more pep to it, so I think they made the right decision.
In addition to the alternate ending, there are about seven minutes of deleted scenes. One is another trip to the birthing class, although this one actually made me cringe and chuckle and probably should have been included in the movie over what they did use from the birthing class. There is a really annoying speech by Maura Tierney (who I love and is always good, so this isn’t anything against her) about how a baby doesn’t care about our problems and anything could happen with a baby and blah, blah, blah. It’s one of those movie speeches that makes you want to punch the screen and yell “shut up you smug twit!” Taking it out was the smartest thing McCullers did. The other deleted scenes are neither good or bad and were probably cut for pacing.
The disc includes a standard making-of featurette called “From Conception to Delivery: The Making of Baby Mama,” It’s about ten minutes and features the usual interviews with stars Fey, Poehler, and Kinnear and behind-the-scenes footage. It’s fluffy and not particularly interesting, but I can’t say it’s any worse than the other 50,000 of these you’ve seen on other DVD’s. There is also a three minute item with much of the same stuff titled “Saturday Night Live: Legacy of Laughter.” It doesn’t really have anything to do with SNL per se, just that all the main participants, Fey, Poehler, McCullers, and Michaels, all first crossed paths on the show. Really it’s just another fluffy behind-the-scenes featurette of the movie.
Baby Mama is a mediocre movie and this DVD fits it perfectly. Nothing there that is strong enough to hate but it’s all just sort of “been there, done that.” Maybe Poehler and Fey have a better movie in them in the future.
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