There’s an inherent problem with shared experiences, meaning events like marriage, death in the family, and – yes – pregnancy, as well as things like being from a dysfunctional family, and it’s this: anyone who writes about such subjects has to make an effort to avoid repeating the same jokes we’ve already heard a thousand times. This is the conundrum Michael McCullers, writer and director of “Baby Mama,” is faced with. He does his best, adding some new wrinkles in the form of solid supporting performers and an often affecting screenplay, but the result is still a mixed bag.
And admit it, it’s hard to get too enthused by the plot. On one hand you have 37-year old career woman Kate Holbrook (Tina Fey), whose biological clock is ticking louder than the ones in that Pink Floyd song. When artificial insemination doesn’t pan out – thanks to a misshapen uterus – she turns to surrogacy. Enter Angie Ostrowiski (Amy Poehler), a trashy working class type (the Polish surname being an obvious giveaway) convinced by her common-law husband Carl (Dax Shepard) to accept the responsibility… and the $10K check that goes along with it. When Carl and Angie split up, she moves into Kate’s tidy apartment to complete her gestation. No doubt we’re in for more tiresome “Odd Couple” style shenanigans as the two butt heads over proper prenatal strategies and teach other valuable life lessons.
Well, yes and no. McCullers does go after the expected low-hanging fruit; the physical discomfort of pregnancy, the abundance of stupid crap you have to buy and the shocking revelation that labor and childbirth hurt like a m**********r (Poehler screaming that she’s “shitting a knife” was a nice touch, though). Even when we learn the film’s somewhat less than astounding twist about midway through, the movie’s happy outcome is never really in doubt.
It’s when the script deviates from these stale gags that “Baby Mama” shows promise. Fey and Poehler have obvious chemistry thanks to their years on “Saturday Night Live,” and play off each other comfortably (though Fey remains a mediocre actor). Things really improve when the supporting cast steps forward. Greg Kinnear and Shepard make the most of their turns as the respective love interests, but the best efforts come from Sigourney Weaver as the head of the surrogacy service (who has an annoying knack for getting pregnant well into her 50s) and Steve Martin as Kate’s hippy-dippy CEO boss Barry. I admit, I didn’t think Martin had it in to be funny again after 20 years of “Father of the Bride,” “Cheaper by the Dozen,” and “Pink Panther” remakes, but Barry has some great moments.
For all that, “Baby Mama” has to be seen as a disappointment. There’s a lot of talent up there on the screen, and some authentic laughs, but too much of it is comedy territory that was claimed long ago.