Fey stays smart in ‘Baby Mama’

Erin Salvi

There is a certain brand of humor generated by “Saturday Night Live” that makes for entertaining sketch comedy, but shoddy comedic films. For years, SNL has tried to cash in on their most popular characters by drawing out what should, at most, be 15 minute sketches into feature length films such as “Night at the Roxbury,” “The Ladies Man,” and “Superstar.” These films almost always turn out to be disasters, or at least extremely dull, because a single funny idea just isn’t funny anymore when reiterated for an hour and a half.

Tina Fey, one of the smartest, most inventive writers SNL has ever employed, has managed to break out of the typical sketch to screenwriting mold like no one from NBC’s hit show has before. Her first screenplay, “Mean Girls,” was a masterpiece of the teen film genre, if there has ever been such a thing.

Part parody, but rooted in real conflict and emotion, the film was a social commentary as much as a comedy. Fey’s newest film, “Baby Mama,” is actually written by Michael McCullers, another writer for SNL, and lacks the vivacious punch of “Mean Girls,” but maintains a similar sharp, witty, surprising kind of humor throughout.

Fey takes center stage in this film as Kate Holbrook, a single, successful businesswoman who, at 37 decides she finally wants to have a baby, only to discover that she is infertile. With adoption for an unmarried woman taking up to five years, Kate turns to the next best thing: a surrogate. In her desperation to find someone: anyone: to carry her baby, Kate picks the first surrogate she meets, Angie Ostrowiski (Amy Poehler), a junk-food eating, hyperactive, frenzied mess of a human being who clashes with Kate as much Felix clashes with Oscar.

Things go smoothly at first, but when Angie leaves her boyfriend and moves in with Kate, it becomes apparent to Kate that Angie needs a lifestyle overhaul if she’s going to be nourishing a child inside of her. Together, they attend surrogacy counseling, birthing classes, and ultrasounds, all the while trying to reconcile their differences and, to the surprise of each, finding an unlikely friend.

Someone once said that British humor is based on making the mundane into the absurd, while American humor is about making the absurd into the mundane. Nationalities aside, McCullers’ particular style of funny is a delightful combination of the two. The humor pops out of nowhere at times, treating the ridiculous as an everyday occurrence, and heightening the norm to levels of absurdity. It’s a fine balance, but “Baby Mama” achieves it throughout most of the film. The plot of the film is nothing unique (though McCullers does toss in a few good twists), but it is funny enough that it clips along at a steady pace after a bit of a slow start, keeping the audience engaged.

Much of the success of the comedy in this film has to be attributed to Poehler. After seeing her perform over-the-top caricatures for years on SNL, Poehler had begun to grate on my funny bone. To my surprise, Poehler carries this film, out-acting Fey with a hilarious but complex performance. When she first appeared on screen, I feared Angie would be a one-note stereotype, but she is anything but.

Fey’s character was in danger of enacting a stereotype as well, but the reason this movie succeeds is because the actors have created real people out of these characters, with whom the audience can’t help but sympathize.

Greg Kinnear, Steve Martin, and Sigourney Weaver form a strong supporting cast, with the latter two leaning much more toward the absurd as a health food magnate and the founder of a surrogacy center, respectively.

Overall, the film is a very solid, well-acted comedy. If Fey and McCullers keep making films like this, Judd Apatow and friends won’t be the only ones being hailed for ushering in a new, smart era of comedy.