There were many ways to go with the premise of BABY MAMA. Writer/director Michael McCullers chose the toughest route of all: gentle yet smart. The result is a pithy deconstruction of both the trendy and the traditional, with well-aimed swipes at everything from designer parenthood to the redneck in the blue collar.
The problem starts with a T-shaped uterus. It belongs to Kate (Tina Fey), super organized, super successful, as she puts it, she got promotions when everyone else got pregnant. Now 37, she’s suddenly seized with a bad case of baby fever and when her uterus fails her, ever the superb problem-solver, she doesn’t take infertility lying down. Instead, she takes her eggs and puts them in a surrogate. It’s the hip and happening thing to do. It’s also expensive, $100,000, but now that Kate is VP of Development for Round World, an organic grocery store seeking to dominate the planet without the use of pesticides, she’s in the perfect position to hire a better configured uterus. Her surrogate broker (Signourney Weaver) pairs her with Angie (Amy Poehler), the ditzy, junk-food addict with a troglodyte boyfriend (Dax Shepard), no sense of decorum, and the emotional resonance of a hamster. It’s a match made in comedy heaven, as each is forced to step out of comfort levels that are light years apart, and into the brave new world of not just parenthood, but also adulthood
There are many familiar tropes here, but making this character-, rather than gag-, driven opens things up beyond such clichés as Angie’s inability to outsmart th baby-proofing Kate installs in her home, and Kate’s inability to dress appropriately for a night of clubbing (she was going with calico, without irony). First and foremost, it obviates the need for Kate’s life to be a disaster. Instead, it is not perfect, but darn good. Fey, with a deft mastery of droll understatement, makes Kate a champion of coping with the metaphorical speedbumps as she negotiates a successful life that has dashes of DaDa, but one that remains within the bounds of (cinema) reality. She’s got a great job, even if her boss (Steve Martin) has addled his New Age obsessions to jibe with his own narcissistic venality. She gamely works through his rewarding her with five uninterrupted minutes of eye-to-eye contact with an amiably respectful deadpan. Her family life is manageable with a fertile sister (Maura Tierney) who is her rock, even if their mother’s behavior is as inappropriate as Angie’s but delivered with plumier tones. She may not have a boyfriend (they tend to scamper when she talks about her problems with fertility on a first date), but she’s got Oscar (Romany Malco) her building’s doorman who is the voice of unmitigated reason for everyone. Once apprised of Kate’s new project, he is he one who points out the correct, eponymous designation for Angie. He’s also Angie’s unassailable if annoying conscience when her own isn’t kicking in. That he is undone by the prospect of a little vomit or a causal discussion of mysterious workings of the female reproductive system only serves to make him more endearing. Kate’s also got a budding and unexpected new romance with Rob (Greg Kinnear), small-time purveyor of smoothies, because it’s the worst possible moment, emotionally and professionally, but it is with the best possible guy, charming, self, assured, but not slick, and a good sport about her company maybe putting him out of business when they move into his neighborhood.
The lisping birthing coach, the inexplicably yet continually pregnant surrogate broker, Carl, Angie’s bad boyfriend, Kate’s prospective new one, it’s the fresh and the standard mixing it up, but with witty writing, and a cast that is uniformly solid and original. Martin in particular who brings a megalomania that is pervasive, but not glib, to his pony-tailed tyrant, and Malco an actor who is as effortlessly in charge of the screen as he is with perfect comic timing. It’s the chemistry between Poehler and Fey that make the film, though. They are a dream team, each a preternaturally gifted comedian who has no difficulty in simultaneously playing straight woman to the other while still making their characters a bit more than skin deep. This is acting at a level of sophistication, and of fun, that is sheer delight.
Raw food enthusiasts may object to the not entirely exaggerated house bread sequence that is the centerpiece of Kate’s first date with Rob. High-end stroller manufacturers may have a quibble, or an inspiration, from their depiction here, but never mind. BABY MAMA goes for the heart with a playful sense of absurdity that is arch, but never mean-spirited.