Maggie McMuffin gives a clear-eyed second look at the Fey-Poehler comedy Baby Mama and questions its muddy thematic content.
In 2008 I was a talented slacker finishing out high school. Having recently lost my virginity and gotten into the only school I applied to, I was feeling comfortable about my knowledge of the world. I was sure I was a liberal, sure I was an ally to all marginalized groups, sure I was straight, and sure I didn’t ever want a damn baby.
Oh, sweet tiny Maggie, how little you knew. How naive and self-assured you were in 2008.
In 2008, I didn’t know White Feminism was a thing. I didn’t know I had absorbed all the -isms our society upholds. I didn’t know I would one day be able to let a baby spit up on me and shrug it off. I didn’t know Tina Fey would break my heart repeatedly with her whorephobic, slut-shaming jokes. I didn’t know I would have to constantly leave the room rather than admit I don’t like Parks and Rec that much and it’s not even just because of the stripper jokes but seriously THE GLITTER FACTORY? STRIPPERS DO NOT WEAR GLITTER.
I really have issues with Tina Fey.
But I didn’t used to. I used to have heroes because I used to believe people could be infallible. And I have since learned that maybe I hold women to higher standards than men and thus come down on them harder when they disappoint me.
So here I am, sitting at my computer, waiting to watch Baby Mama. A movie I saw in theaters opening weekend and immediately identified as being so very much about me even though I was afraid of babies.
In retrospect, I may have identified with this movie because the women are easy to identify with. And by that I mean this is not Fey or Poehler’s best work.
We open by hearing 37-year-old Kate expositioning to a dude ON THE FIRST DATE about how she was the “right kind of woman” who rose through the ranks to be the youngest VP at her office and that it is unfair that this means she might be the “oldest mother on the playground.” She didn’t used to want babies. Something just happened and here she is single and sniffing the heads of unnamed infants in elevators but still disgusted by the idea of children being messy.
She tries adoption and IVF to no avail (she’s got a T-shaped uterus and a “one in a million” chance) and so moves on to a surrogacy agency. She balks at this initially because it’s gonna cost her 100k and I’m like, bitch, you tried a sperm donor NINE TIMES. Twice with IVF. Don’t act like you aren’t willing to pour money into this dream.
This is also a good point to say that Tina Fey, despite her history of hating on sex workers and women who do things not the way she does, did not write this movie. Some dude did. So it is even less surprising that the mode of baby-making, which relies on a woman profiting from her physical and emotional labor, is initially seemed as ridiculous.
Anyway, Kate, after making sure this is an ethical thing and not some poor third world woman carrying a baby against her will (Note: Kate’s job in this movie is literally gentrifying a Philadelphia neighborhood. Ha! White liberals), signs up and holds exactly one interview with Amy Poehler’s Angie. Angie is a white trash train wreck with a shitty boyfriend who is just the shittiest dude and soon after the pregnancy takes they break up and Angie lives with Kate.
What follows is an Odd Couple situation of two clashing types of womanhood. Angie tries getting Kate to lighten up and Kate tries getting Angie to grow up. They butt heads, they disagree on what a healthy diet is, they both seek council from the lone black character in the movie who happens to be a doorman constantly talking about his three baby mamas.
Along the way, Kate gets a new boyfriend despite her Whole Foods-esque store threatening his small business, Angie contemplates signing up for fashion school, and it is revealed that Angie is actually not pregnant at all!
Wanting to save their budding friendship and also get her 20k (seriously? That’s ALL she gets from that?) Angie attempts to hide her flat stomach via posturing and an inflatable pregnancy belly meant for men to wear as a joke.
Honestly, at this point in the movie it’s clear that neither Angie nor Kate are cut out to be a mom, but we continue anyway. When it’s revealed that Angie is actually pregnant by way of her asshole common-law husband, Angie realizes she wants to keep the baby. When Kate finds out, she goes to court to determine which of them is the for-real mother. Before the results are read, Angie gives a heartfelt speech about how Kate helped her learn how to be a mother which is…honestly kind of not okay in this situation? Hey infertile woman I was supposed to help give birth for, I lied to you for seven months and this baby is mine now but thanks for making me the sort of person who could do this!
Kate runs out of the courtroom and we later learn it was to go throw up.
Angie gives birth, Kate faints, they make up because of that and while in the hospital we learn that Kate is pregnant too! Hooray!
EVERYONE GETS WHAT THEY WANTED
WHICH IS A BABY AND A MAN BECAUSE KATE AND ANGIE BOTH WIND UP WITH THEIR BABY DADDIES
And I have to ask WHO IS THIS MOVIE FOR???
It is a movie where a rich white woman starts out wanting to carry a child and she does. She tries everything and despite having limitless opportunities due to her economic standing, winds up also hitting the one in a million chance and not only getting pregnant but carrying the pregnancy to term despite the fact that implantation of an egg and carrying a fetus are two different biological tasks.
Is it to erase the stigma around surrogacy? Because Angie winds up lying and having her own accident child. We only see the other surrogates once and we only hear about one of them giving birth for a split-second towards the end. The surrogates themselves do not speak nearly as much as the people they are carrying babies for and honestly both of them get insulted by the people renting their uterus.
Is it to voice that non-traditional families are great? Because everyone winds up together with their baby daddy at the end. Including, it seems, Angie who had previously dumped Carl because he’s just started taking parenting classes.
Is it to say that it’s okay for powerful women to also pursue motherhood? Because Sigourney Weaver’s character (the most business-savvy woman in the film) is constantly the subject of jokes for being hyper fertile and older than the 37-year-old Kate.
So really this is once again a story where it is okay for the women Amy Poehler and Tina Fey play to make their own decisions because everything is going to work out fine for them.
That said, this is not the most egregious example of that! Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s the best thing Fey and Poehler have been a part of either. Mean Girls is more problematic than Baby Mama, but it is admittedly more iconic and infinitely quotable. Parks and Rec, despite not being my cup of tea, is popular for a reason and has rightfully birthed many memeable scenes and gave us #treatyoself.
This movie is just such mediocre airplane fodder. Actually no. It’s not. It’s the sort of movie you would see playing in a bar TV switched to TBS at 1:30 in the afternoon.
All that said, the supporting characters played by Weaver and Steve Martin are hilarious. Weaver is a beatific business woman who just wants to charge people money and get them babies. She is so effortlessly calm and even though her lines aren’t super funny in and of themselves, the way Weaver delivers them is comedy gold. Steve Martin plays Kate’s rich hippie boss and it’s clear that they didn’t script him as much as everyone else. The one moment from this film I am taking is him rewarding her with five minutes of uninterrupted eye contact. It is as awkward as it sounds and hilarious to watch.
Also, Brooklyn 99 fans, Adrian Pimento shows up for a brief cameo as an overly sensitive gay man!
But that’s really it. This movie, even ignoring the hermaphrodite panic jokes and the laughing at people wanting natural births, is hardly progressive. It doesn’t even seem to be taking a stance. It’s just another largely forgettable comedy about women that was written by a man telling us what he thinks empowered women look like. Which obviously means that yes, you can have it all, but only if you are these two specific kinds of white women and you spend 60% of your film fighting with other women first.