Tina Fey’s Superpowers Fail to Carry ‘Baby Mama’

November 28, 2008

I couldn’t wait for it to finish – and yet, now that it’s done, I wish I could see it all over again. No, not “Baby Mama,” the comedy starring Tina Fey. I’m talking about the U.S. presidential elections and the TV they inspired. No matter what your political bent, it’s hard to deny that Fey’s impressions of a certain vice-presidential candidate were the most talked-about comedic moments in quite some time. Her multiple visits to her alma mater, “Saturday Night Live,” sent the actress’s fame through the roof.

So forgive me if, in reviewing Fey’s newest film, I draw some occasional inspiration from her recent moment in the sun.

Now, it pains me to say anything bad about Tina Fey, a unique creature in Hollywood.

She got where she is because of her brains and wit: after working her way up the ladder at SNL, an infamous boys’ club, she became the show’s first female head writer.

Eventually, she slid in front of the cameras in a few sketches and hosted the show’s “Weekend Update” segment alongside Jimmy Fallon and Amy Poehler. Now, thanks to her hit show “30 Rock” and her recent political satire, she’s a household name and an Emmy-winning powerhouse. But no matter how famous she has become, she still seems like your hilarious best friend who suddenly made it big. She’s almost like a regular Joe Six-Pack – with lipstick, of course.

But Fey’s talents aren’t enough to carry this silly plot. She plays Kate, a successful, single businesswoman whose dreams of having a baby on her own are thwarted by fertility problems and a slow adoption process. She hires a trashy surrogate, Angie, played by Fey’s former colleague Poehler. When Angie breaks up with her boyfriend and moves in with Kate, hijinks ensue – some funny, some less so.

Despite Fey’s comforting presence, Poehler’s unquestioned comic skills and the pleasant Greg Kinnear as Kate’s love interest, the movie doesn’t really work. It takes a premise that’s already a stretch, pushes it too far with some ridiculous plot twists and then throws in some sad moments, veering erratically off course. And although it’s interesting to see this single woman’s dilemma play out, the happy ending is awfully goofy.

“Baby Mama” falls short of the standard set by “Mean Girls,” the 2004 film Fey co-wrote and appeared in. That movie was clever, well paced and wickedly dark, and starred Lindsey Lohan as a wholesome and well-adjusted teenager (ah, how times have changed). The lesson? It’s nice to have Tina Fey in front of the cameras, but gosh darn it, we need her backstage as a writer as well.

Fey herself, in character this fall, might have summed it all up this way: “Baby Mama,” well, the sometimes lacking humor of that for ordinary Americans in this great nation, and also, too, the confusion of some of the moments that, is it a comedy or is it a drama? But, gee, she’s a heck of a comedian, and you know what, I love her.

You betcha.

 

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