Pay no attention to the trailer for “Baby Mama,” as it does the movie absolutely no justice. This is one funny movie, often eliciting the biggest laughs from the most throwaway jokes. The formulaic story structure bogs things down some, but the characters within that formulaic story structure are as sharp and unique as any rom-com – particularly pregnancy-related rom-coms – in recent memory.
Tina Fey stars as Kate Holbrook, a successful businesswoman whose clock is ticking like this but has insides that H.I. McDunnough would call a rocky place where a man’s seed would know no purchase. Desperate to start motherhood, she chooses surrogacy, and the lucky womb that will be home to Kate’s eggs belongs to one Angela Ostrowiski (Amy Poehler), an undereducated but bright white trash girl with a deadbeat common law husband Carl (Dax Shepard) who’s just doing this for the money. Angela has no idea how to take care of herself never mind a baby, so when Kate has to teach Angela new eating habits – along with some general etiquette on where not to put wads of chewing gum – it has moments where it is literally like training a cat to do tricks. In return, Angela teaches Kate how to, well, dress like a whore.
The screenplay credit may go entirely to writer and first-time director Michael McCullers, but Fey’s fingerprints are all over this movie. This is not a big surprise, since both Fey and McCullers logged time on the writing staff for “Saturday Night Live” (this would also explain roughly 50% of the casting decisions), so don’t let her lack of a writing credit fool you. Fans of “30 Rock” will lap this up like kittens under a cow udder.
Studios throw millions of dollars at Jennifer Aniston and Kate Hudson – with Katherine Heigl nipping at their heels – to star in their rom-coms, and after watching Fey here, you wonder why they’re not throwing that money at her instead. She’s just as good as they are, if not better, and she can write. Who wouldn’t want that kind of talent in their movie? Poehler shines just as brightly as well, finally getting a movie role worthy of her immense talents. Her supporting bits in “Blades of Glory” and even the dreadful “Mr. Woodcock” were great, but this is her first part with teeth, and she makes the most of it. Dax Shepard is, by and large, a celluloid killer, but he does exactly what the role of Carl requires of him, and does it well. Greg Kinnear also provides valuable straight-man support as Kate’s love interest, with Romany Malco getting the laughs as Kate’s doorman Oscar. It’s tempting to discuss the actor who plays Kate’s boss, but it’s too good of a cameo performance to spoil.
The biggest downside to “Baby Mama” is that you pretty much know how it’s going to end from the moment it begins. It’s a comedy, after all, so mommy’s not dying in the delivery room. Wisely, McCullers and Fey counter this limitation with substantial character development and even distribution of the funny (even Holland Taylor, who plays Kate’s mother and has no more than five lines, has one of the movie’s funniest moments), and the end result is a baby movie with decidedly more bite than your typical baby movie. Hail Tina.(3.5 / 5)
This review originally ran April 25, 2008 on Bullz-Eye.com.