"This is as close as you can get to seeing me and Amy in a movie version of Laverne & Shirley."
- Tina Fey
I have a long-standing love affair with the women of Saturday Night Live, and have always felt the show shines or stumbles based on the use (and strength) of its female performers. My first crush was Jan Hooks ("I am her mother...I am a barfly"), who helped pave the way for more greatness--which had me euphoric during the brilliant Cheri Oteri/Molly Shannon/Ana Gasteyer years.
The talented Rachel Dratch joined at the end of that trio's reign, helping to usher in another amazing crop including Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph and Kristin Wiig. To this day, Shannon ("I call this outfit my desert rose 'cause it features the camel toe!"), Oteri ("Just an elastic basket to hold my peaches!") and Poehler ("I'm rockin' one leg, I'm hypoglycemic...") remain the biggest source of quotes among me and my friends, but Wiig ("I gave him a blow joy on my wicker fan chair...it's certainly not a job!") is gaining fast.
And much like Wiig's excitable character Sue ("Oh...my...G-o-d!")--you can imagine my anticipation when longtime friends Fey and Poehler teamed up for Baby Mama, written and directed by fellow friend and former SNL writer Michael McCullers. Fey plays Kate Holbrook, vice president for an organic foods company. The single 37-year-old has baby mania, but her T-shaped uterus is making fertilization impossible. Unlucky in love and rejected by adoption agencies, she finally succumbs to the surrogacy solution. Enter Angie (Poehler), a fashion design wannabe who "discontinued" high school and lives in semi-white trash bliss with common law husband Carl (Dax Shepard), an unemployed, money hungry redneck.
Angie gets pregnant but soon splits from Carl, sending her into Kate's far-more luxurious condo--and the non-stop Odd Couple antics provide much of the film's laughs ("I'm not trying to be dramatic," says Angie. "But I would rather be shot in the face than eat this stupid food"). The conflict sends the couple to therapy, and a surprising friendship seems to bloom. But while Kate worries that the child might be a hermaphrodite ("I heard it happens to about 2 percent of babies!"), she has bigger causes for concern that are soon revealed.
Along for the ride are potential love interest Greg Kinnear (the perfect match for Fey), playing the owner of the Super Fruity café (which has a memorable logo); Sigourney Weaver as the surprisingly fertile surrogacy center chief; Steve Martin as a zen-like organic guru; and Holland Taylor and (the underused) Maura Tierney as Kate's mom and sister. Plenty of SNL vets also appear: Will Forte, Fred Armisen and Siobhan Fallon (she of the fantastic "Delta Delta Delta" sketches), who plays a speech-impeded birth center instructor.
While it makes encouraging points about having a family, Baby Mama is a buddy movie above all else--a showcase for two gifted comedians to bounce off each other. Fey and Poehler both play their well-known personas, so there isn't anything remarkably fresh here--but they do it so well, it still works. Long-suffering Kate--a victim of her own accommodating nature--quietly smiles through the everyday insults, using her sardonic wit and self-deprecating sense of humor to survive.
It's a schtick Fey has perfected, an "everyman" quality that makes her instantly relatable. Like her SNL work--and her American Express commercial with Martin Scorsese, which is genius--Fey is capable of give emotional heft to one simple word of dialogue, using subtle humor in an attempt to mask pain. Her cold response to a clueless bookstore clerk--"...cash..."--is gold, a comedic acting lesson that stresses restraint.
Poehler performs Angie with her familiar exaggerated energy, her specialty. Her character doesn't exist on quite the same level as Fey's, which prevents the film from hitting you on a deeper level. Poehler dials up Angie a little too far--she feels like a purely comedic foil to Kate. Look closely and you can see bits of Poehler's SNL characters pop up: we get a little of Amber's ghetto attitude ("Yeah, I farted. Jealous?") and a little of Netti, her trailer park patient from "Appalachian Emergency Room" ("Wheelchairs is better than lawnchairs cause they got wheels on 'em"). Not that I'm complaining--Poehler is still hilarious, capped by an unforgettable outburst near the 1 hour, 29 minute mark that has given me a new line to shout at my friends (Fey also has an oil-based line that is equally quotable).
Yes, Baby Mama has a predictable story--but it has a positive message. Yes, it has familiar performances from its two leads--but those two leads are just too damn irresistible. Like so many of the SNL women, I am puddy in their hysterical hands. Fey and Poehler are yin and yang--each relies on a different style of comedy to make you laugh, but both work beautifully (if you have any doubt, find the opening sketch from the Sept. 13, 2008 SNL premiere that has the two sparring as Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton...genius!). This comedy dream team has crafted a charming feature film debut--I can't wait for the follow-up. As Kristin Wiig's Sue would say: "I'm so freakin' excited!!!"
Side A contains an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer, with Side B offering up a full-frame option. The widescreen image is strong, but features dull colors and is extremely soft--most of the movie looks like it just got a spray tan, with orange and brown hues dominating.
The 5.1 surround track fits the film perfectly. Dialogue is always sharp, and the limited use of rear speakers provides subtle yet highly effective sounds. It also comes in Spanish and French, and subtitles are available English, Spanish and French. The audio commentary has optional English subtitles only.
I've never been a big fan of commentaries, but the audio commentary from Fey, Poehler, writer/director Michael McCullers and producer/SNL honcho Lorne Michaels (who doesn't speak a lot) is a highly entertaining listen. Fey, Poehler and McCullers are longtime friends--and they're intelligent and funny, making for a hoot of a track that covers a wide range of tidbits about the movie (they constantly crack each other up). If you like Poehler and Fey, listen to it. (Of the "controversial" decision to keep the song "Endless Love" in a memorable montage, Fey notes: "I think the sweater vests make us look as gay as the song").
The bulk of the other extras come on Side A: the alternate ending (2:23) provides a slightly different yet equally cute conclusion, while six deleted scenes (6:29) include one must-see clip ("Using a Breast Pump") that should have been included in the film, while another ("The Baby Doesn't Care") gives Maura Tierney a small moment to shine.
Saturday Night Live: Legacy of Laughter (3:12) has brief interviews with Fey, Poehler, Michaels and McCullers, who talk about the SNL influence: "Growing up, at least at my age, your comedy taste is defined by SNL to a certain extent," notes McCullers. All of them return in From Conception to Delivery: The Making of Baby Mama (10:00), which appears on Side B and isn't nearly as comprehensive as it sounds. It's still a fun watch (Fey notes that Dax Shepard "specializes in white trashery"), and the rest of the cast chimes in with their thoughts on Fey, Poehler and the film. "They're both comedy pros at the peak of their power," says Michaels. "There's a really good chemistry between the two of them." Adds Fey: "To work with Amy is great, because we've known each other and worked together for so long. I feel like we have a very nice shorthand with each other." As for the film, she says "Some of the message of the movie is that there's no wrong way to make a family, and that anybody who wants to have and love a baby should be able to do that." Just one of the many reasons I absolutely love that woman...
You also get trailers for other releases. Sadly, no blooper reel in included, a real shame. From the brief behind-the-scenes footage, you can see Fey and Poehler clowning around a lot with the lines and each other. There has to be a lot of unused fun footage, but we don't get any of it.
The story is predictable and the lead performances are familiar, but when you're being led by the sharp comedic talents of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler--two of the funniest people around--who cares? These two play off each other perfectly, and single handedly (or is that double handedly?) make Baby Mama a disc worth adopting. Recommended.