Each generation gets the Mary Tyler Moore it deserves; as creator and star of NBC’s 30-Rock sitcom, Tina Fey has earned herself the right to be 2008’s funny-girl. And even though writer/director Michael McCullers seems intent on broadening Fey’s appeal for her first starring role, Baby Mama is a baby-boom comedy which consistently goes for and gets big laughs.
In a role that’s no great stretch from 30-Rock’s Lisa Lemon, Fey plays Kate Holbrook, a 37-year old executive at a Philadelphia health-food company. When her doctor bluntly tells her that he ‘doesn’t like the shape’ of her uterus, Kate engages the surrogate services of baby mama Angie Ostowist (Amy Poehler), a trailer trash Gwen Stefani-wannabe who arrives complete with her dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks boyfriend Carl (Dax Shepard) in tow. To Kate’s initial delight, Angie gets pregnant soon after agreeing to carry the child, but when Angie moves in with Kate, the girls’ fractious relationship disintegrates into outright feuding.
Making good on Fey’s previous cinematic success (Mean Girls), Baby Mama derives considerable comic punch from the comic timing of her double act with Poehler. Their easy rapport breathes life into the script’s clichés, notably in an amusingly gauche attempt by the girls to represent themselves in court, where Poehler repeatedly addresses the judge as ‘your majesty’ and acknowledges his responses with a deferential ‘aye-aye-sir’.
But Baby Mama’s breakout success is a team effort. As staff writer for Saturday Night Live, Fey was able to call for support in the form of uber-producer Lorne Michaels, Michael McMullen, writer of two Austin Powers films, plus SNL regulars including Poehler and Will Forte. And there’s note-perfect support from big stars, with Sigourney Weaver shining as a dry-witted but remarkably fertile surrogacy agent, Greg Kinnear as a dim-but-nice juice bar manager, and even Steve Martin flourishes as her hippy-dippy boss, New Age-casualty Barry.
Weakened by a copout ending, Baby Mama isn’t likely to be the stand-out item on Fey’s already impressive comic CV. Yet, even if this mama don’t knock you out, it’s still a welcome relief from the stale locker-room humour of most male-dominated US comedy imports.
General release from Fri 25 Jul. See feature, page 16.