The number one movie this past weekend was Baby Mama, which showed that 40-ish women can open movies at a time when every sign points to a downward spiral for all women, especially older women.
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, with an aggressive ad campaign, have flipped the stigma on its ear. It doesn’t hurt that the two women, since becoming the first two fake news anchors on Saturday Night Live, have the kind of charisma usually reserved, these days anyway, for their male counterparts. A girl buddy picture about pregnancy and infertility? Sign me up!
Tina Fey is someone who has carved a path defending women. She recently defended Hillary Clinton on Saturday Night Live (“bitch is the new black”) and took up for Lindsay Lohan during her career meltdown. More than that, her work reflects a non-threatening feminism that, in its own quiet way, is a rarity in an industry that appears to have forgotten that women need to stand up for women.
Although Fey did not write Baby Mama, her influence is felt throughout. It is not unlike Mean Girls, Fey’s adaptation of the sociological study of adolescent girls, Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman. The film, in fact, was written and directed by Michael McCullers, a SNL vet. The film itself is enjoyable if forgettable, but it’s worthy of praise because of Fey and Poehler.
Baby Mama tells the story of a working woman (Fey) whose uterus has betrayed her and she, supposedly, can’t get pregnant. She hires a surrogate (Poehler) who is in it for the money. When Poehler and her lowlife boyfriend break up, Poehler has nowhere to go but move in with Fey. Because she believes this is the woman who is bearing her child, Fey’s character clucks about like a hen, force-feeding organic food down and making her listen to Italian language DVD’s.
The point here is that there is no justice in the universe, clearly. Well-meaning, successful, and mature women have trouble conceiving, while women who have no business bringing children into the world can get pregnant at the drop of a hat. While much of this was covered in this year’s Best Picture nominee, Juno, Baby Mama steers the car in a slightly different direction and unfortunately, not necessarily for the better.
What keeps Baby Mama from bottoming out is the delightful cast, starting with Fey and Poehler but also Steve Martin as a New Age owner of a healthy market chain (like Whole Foods). He has some of the film’s best lines, like, “While I was running barefoot through an airport in Toronto….” and, “I will now reward you with five minutes of eye contact in silence.” Sigourney Weaver is brilliant as the surrogate maven who happens to still be getting pregnant into her 50s.
Fey, it turns out, makes a formidable leading lady of the Rosalind Russell variety. Where did women like that go anyway? They seem to have vanished from the big screen altogether, or else been replaced by British actresses. Fey can more than hold a whole film together on her smallish shoulders. The only thing missing was her writing.
Poehler has the harder part because she’s supposed to be a “white trash lowlife” who eventually pulls it together to become a “woman.” Poehler is better at playing smarter characters, but she certainly holds her own against Fey. The two have a buddy combination that must turn into a regular thing.
Finally, this isn’t a movie that is going to challenge anyone, and you may find it disappears from memory moments after seeing it. It isn’t really the movie, though. It’s the idea that two women can open a movie. That is worth remembering.