A tailor-made girls’ night out movie, “Baby Mama” is a tidily wrapped package the contents of which you can easily guess before opening it. Bigscreen teaming of longtime “Saturday Night Live” cohorts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, as two women brought together through a dubious surrogate pregnancy, employs both broad gags and mild wit in telling an exceedingly predictable tale designed to push recognition buttons with thirtysomething women, to likely sweetly profitable results.
The role of Kate Holbrook, a bright, accomplished and attractive career woman who feels a sudden need to have a baby, seems so perfectly suited for Fey that it will be widely assumed that she wrote the script herself, as she did for “Mean Girls.” In fact, pic reps the handiwork of writer and first-time helmer Michael McCullers, a co-scenarist on the two “Austin Powers” sequels, who worked with Fey, Poehler and producer Lorne Michaels on “Saturday Night Live” some years back.
Along with the pregnancy angle, a source of interlaced anxiety and humor, pic looks for most of its laughs in the “Odd Couple”-ish forced cohabitation of Kate’s ultra-confident uber-yuppie and Angie (Poehler), a trailer-trash vulgarian Kate finds to carry her baby upon learning she’s got little chance of conceiving on her own. Unfortunately, far too much of this culture clash is expressed through cheap gags such as Angie’s preference for junk over health food and her sticking gum underneath Kate’s coffee table.
Happily, some of the script’s tributary branches prove more fertile than the core. Kate patronizes a top-of-the-line surrogacy center whose owner (Sigourney Weaver) stirs intense envy and wonderment in her clients by continuing to be abundantly reproductive even in her late 50s.
Even better, the owner of Round Earth, the health food grocery chain where Kate is a top executive, is inventively played by Steve Martin as a long-haired new age guru with eccentric business habits and communication techniques (such as placing foreheads together to foster mutual understanding) that are nuttily funny without tipping into the absurd.
Kate’s present project is launching a new store in a borderline Philadelphia neighborhood, an occupation that neatly dovetails with the interests of local juice bar owner Rob (Greg Kinnear). While the latter role is by nature dully functional, providing Kate with dating material while her baby is growing in someone else, Kinnear invests the attractive fellow with just enough scruffiness, skepticism and unruly backstory to make him a welcome presence.
Thesps and the generally congenial mood make “Baby Mama” go down easily enough, with the major caveats that the two major plot twists (or perhaps bumps best applies here) are plainly visible from miles away, and that McCullers’ eagerness to please results in a story with not a single rough edge or lingering issue. The world on view here has not a speck of dirt or difficulty left in it once the plot entanglements are sorted out.
Fey is a delight to watch throughout. Able to convey Kate’s intentions and feelings through the simple looks and inflections, she never melodramatizes her situation; nor does her efficient, perfectionist side become overbearing. A fine foil and partner for her co-star through long experience, Poehler is a bit more scattershot in her effectiveness, due to Angie’s sometimes overdrawn coarseness, her misguided motives and her alliance with a bottom-feeder mate (an amusing Dax Shepard). Some additional laughs come courtesey of Romany Malco as a sometimes overly helpful doorman, Holland Taylor as Kate’s acerbic mother and Siobhan Fallon Hogan as a birthing class teacher with a wild accent that channels early Marlene Dietrich.
Although shot mostly in New York, pic picks up some added freshness via Philadelphia streets locations. Craft contributions are handsome, although Jeff Richmond’s score veers towards on-cue preciousness.