Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are a long way from the Weekend Update desk on Saturday Night Live in Baby Mama, and it shows. What a strained, mediocre comedy this is, with an inane story setting up a series of crass jokes that are far below the level of humor we expect from the talented comediennes.
Part of the problem is that Fey and Poehler didn't write the story; another former SNL scribe, Michael McCullers, serves as writer and director, although Fey and Poehler have said they gave the script a thorough once-over. Fey plays Kate, a successful career woman in her late thirties who's desperate to have a baby. Unfortunately there's no man in sight to start a family, adoption takes too long and her uterus isn't fit for artificial insemination.
The next (and seemingly last) option is to hire a surrogate mother. Enter Chaffee Bicknell (Sigourney Weaver), who runs her own surrogacy agency and convinces Kate that it's the same as "outsourcing" in business. Although Kate has her choice of surrogates, she inexplicably chooses Angie (Poehler), a flighty high school dropout who's so dumb that when she wears a belt with her name on it we immediately think it's because she'll forget her own name without it.
Lowlifes Angie and her unstable husband Carl (Dax Shepard) are only interested in the sizable money paid to surrogates, and after a nasty fight Angie ditches him and moves in with Kate. They're a regular odd couple at first, with Angie eating junk food and making a mess while fussy Kate gets flustered, but they of course become friends. In fact, Angie soon inspires Kate to date the smoothie store owner (Greg Kinnear) on whom she has a crush.
Although the venerable Steve Martin has fun as the ex-hippie who owns Kate's organic foods company, even he can't salvage a script full of silly gags. It's as if McCullers wrote the script with juvenile teenage males in mind, and was ignorant that the target audience is women.
Most of the physical humor falls to Poehler, and sure it's amusing to see her peeing in a bathroom sink, but she ultimately doesn't give us much to like about Angie. This and the fact that Angie's one-note stupidity gets old very fast makes for a tired, unfunny and disappointing performance.
Fey's acting is serviceable, but her true talent is writing. She's the mastermind behind 30 Rock and wrote the wonderfully chippy Lindsay Lohan comedy Mean Girls. Fey noticeably struggles to carry the movie's emotional weight. She's not convincing in scenes of anger or joy, which means although we always like Kate we don't always empathize with her.
Fey and Poehler have set their standards high, and one can only hope that the lackluster success of Baby Mama will not prevent them from appearing on the big screen again. Let's just hope they write their own material next time, and that it includes the smart, incisive humor of which both are capable.
Directed by Michael McCullers
Starring Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Steve Martin, Sigourney Weaver
Playing at Edwards 9, Edwards 21