Baby Mama

Director    Michael McCullers
Starring    Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Greg Kinnear, Steve Martin, Dax Shepard
Release    25 APR (US) 25 JUL (UK)    Certificate 12A
3 stars


28th July 2008

It's tempting to write off this lopsided baby-com as Knocked Up for chicks or Juno for grown-ups, but in reality, it's far more than a simple Judd Apatow knock-off with added lady bits. For starters, it's fronted by two of the strongest female comedians working in America today; the pairing of Tina Fey (Saturday Night Live's first ever female head writer and 30 Rock scripter) and Amy Poehler (fellow SNL alumni and the current Mrs. Will Arnett) is a winning one indeed. Similarly, the script from Austin Powers scribe Michael McCullers offers up far more zingers than its familiar premise deserves. So, while you might be sick to the back teeth of pregnancy comedies of late, the fresh faces of Fey and Poehler succeed in making Baby Mama a more-than tolerable addition to the genre.

The set-up is pretty bland on paper: mid-'30s businesswoman seeks surrogate mother to birth her child in lieu of a suitable man and a functional womb. So far, so what. But the relationship between Fey's uptight career woman Kate and Poehler's trailer park dork Angie is key to some great riffs on class and status. Few life lessons are learned and the excesses of the Odd Couple-esque scenario are toned down and tuned into something resembling reality, only... well, funnier. Dax Shepard's spurned redneck boyfriend is the only character that's given licence to act the fool, providing the goofiness that is otherwise absent in McCullers witty screenplay. "I'm going to bang all your friends," he says to Angie churlishly, post brush-off. "Consider them banged!" It's basically a reprisal of his dumber-than-thou character from Idiocracy, but he's quite welcome here.

There are weightier themes in play, but they're ultimately ignored in favour of a more conventional storyline. Kate's career as big bucks proprietor of a chain of health food stores is little more than an excuse to laugh at her dumb boss - Steve Martin as a rich hippy (the worst kind) who spouts pseudo-spiritual gobble-de-gook and sports a ridiculous ponytail. Meanwhile, the chance to take a more grounded look at the love life of a middle-aged career woman is ignored in favour of a more upbeat, rose-tinted alternative, with Greg Kinnear's smoothie salesman making for an unnecessary love interest. It's a shame, because Fey makes for a strong lead, and she's above the kind of shameless wooing thrust upon her in the movie's climactic third. We won't, however, bemoan the squeezing of Fey into tight dresses, particularly ones that show off her killer pins. Yowza.

When it flirts with the ordinary, Baby Mama is forgettable stuff: the mandatory clubbing scene, complete with lame dancing and outrageous dresses, is a particular low. But when Fey and Poehler are given good material to work with, the film really earns its stars. Fey stakes her claim for a movie career as well as a TV one, but Poehler is the real stand-out, revelling in the fact she's allowed to dress cheap and talk even cheaper. The dynamic between the girls stays just this side of cheeseball and both characters are written sympathetically so as not to appear snobbish, even if Angie's fashion design sub-plot is somewhat patronising. It's one of a number of genre staples that would be noticeably more jarring were it not for the strong leads.

If Judd Apatow can be accused of writing sketchy roles for ladies, then Baby Mama is guilty of the reverse - there's not a strong male character in the entire movie. Regardless of gender power play, there's a significant gulf in quality between this and, say, Knocked Up, thanks largely to a predictable storyline and an ending that relies heavily on schmaltz. But taken on its own terms, Baby Mama is far more funny than it has any right to be and boasts a dynamite pairing that shows plenty of promise for the future: here's hoping Fey and Poehler pick something a little less formulaic for their next project. Ali

More:  Comedy
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