‘Baby Mama’ almost delivers

 

With the glut of features that focus on the fears and foibles of delivery, “Baby Mama” is a few notches above the laborious “Nine Months” and precocious “Juno,” but doesn’t breach the mother of modern maternity ward laugh-fests known as “Knocked Up.”

“Mama” does deserve credit for dealing with its subject matter from a relatively little-seen on-screen perspective, dealing with infertility and the woes of the working women who choose career over childbirth (though 1987’s featherweight “Baby Boom” was an obvious influence here).

Reigning geek poster-girl Tina Fey (though they are roughly the same age, it still would be fitting to call her this generation’s Janeane Garofolo) stars as Kate Holbrook, who is cursed with the double whammy of hitting the snooze button on her biological clock and the fact that her uterus is a tad hostile toward all incoming eggs.

During a brief look at her social life, we can see nothing but skid marks left by men with whom she shares her maternal urges, and we witness her rejection at adoption agencies who apparently view single women as a half-step above orphanages.

Enter a surrogate center that, for a price well without of range of typical childless couples, unites Kate with Angie Ostrowiski (played by Amy Poehler), who promises to rent her reproductive system.

Upon their first encounter, Angie seems to hardly be a pillar of responsibility. Pulling up in a barely breathing jalopy with her ne’er-do-well “common law” husband, Angie is the Oscar Madison to Kate’s prissy Felix Unger.

A series of events leads Angie to shack up with Kate, leading to the predictable culture clashes that ensue. All of them light and harmless, enough to satisfy the masses with a steady grin, but few belly laughs that one might expect from two of the country’s top comedic performers who have spent much time together on the small screen (both are graduates of “Saturday Night Live”).

It’s not until Angie begins to get cold feet that things get interesting, if not necessarily amusing. It’s an undermined cinematic twist that should deserve a film of its own.

And as prickly as things become, there’s nary a moment’s doubt the film’s destined for a happy ending. Fortunately, Fey and Poehler have a comedic comfort level that invites the audience to continue to tune in. Even when newcomer writer/director Michael McCullers saddles Kate with a rather bland romance with a local merchant (played by Greg Kinnear), we are comforted in knowing she will return home to the latest child-centric calamity with Angie.

“Mama” takes baby steps toward its humor, never breaking into the full sprint one would expect if Fey herself had been responsible for the film’s writing. Her keen eye may have dropped the teething ring bit into more solid (if potentially awkward) sources of laughter.

She also would have penned much meatier material for such cameo performers as Steve Martin, Maura Tierney and Sigourney Weaver. Amusing as they may be, one can only imagine the levels of awkward confrontations that might have occurred from the woman who brought us “30 Rock.”

There are certainly enough working women today facing similar woes of childless regrets, and while the subject itself may not make for uproarious comedy, it could be polished up enough to make more than a few darkly comedic jabs at. “Mama” opts for playing things with crib-like comfort, choosing to be a social commentary of class mores.

There are certainly moments of laugh-out-loud hilarity to be found in “Mama” (most notably, Poehler’s tirade upon entering the hospital, ready to deliver). But too often, McCullers plays the part of the overprotective parent, never wanting its actors to wander into territory where they can really make a mess.

But, as any parent knows, when that happens with children, some of the best stories are created.

~ by usesoapfilm on April 29, 2008.

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